Argumentum Ad Numerum
If we’ve learned anything about our business (and the industry in general) over the past years, it’s that this question comes up in every one of our projects — and if it doesn’t, it’s something that we most certainly have to address:
From whom should I solicit feedback on this new strategy that we’re thinking about adopting?
I think what I love most about this question is that it’s one of the few times when my personal and business ideologies are at total odds with each other, and yet I’m completely confident in the validity of both sides. Personally, I’ve always been a big believer in the importance of multiple opinions and outside feedback (at least from trusted sources), and I guess I would default to the idea that two brains are better than one, three better than two, and so on. That’s ‘personal Jon.’ ‘Business Jon’ learned early on that when it comes to business decisions, especially those that exist in the world of brand strategy, this philosophy is not only flawed, but it can also be quite detrimental to actual progress.
The issue simply boils down to the fact that the dynamic surrounding the feedback being solicited actually prevents the results that it intends to provide. What does that mean? It means that people who haven’t been involved in the process, who have nothing at stake, and who have just been asked for an opinion are, well, going to give one. It’s the nature of the “what do you think of this?” question. And then they’re going to walk away from that opinion, never to think about it again – leaving it to drive you completely insane. At the early stages of brand strategy / positioning (or really big decisions in general), everything is fragile. Despite our strongest efforts, one little comment can drive an approach that is destined for greatness into the vaults of ‘never-to-be-seen-again.’ It can happen faster than you could possibly imagine. Your second cousin Stan says “that logo looks like a bug,” and poof, the “bug logo,” as it’s forever referred, ceases to exist – despite any inherent validity or strength that it may possess. The real screwball thing about this whole process of feedback sharing is that the very ‘critical eye’ that gets turned on your brand-in-the-making never gets used for any other project. The countless brands and messages that are out in the world are never met with that same bug-critique. This sad fact leads me to believe that part of our responsibility, in addition to helping develop the strategy, is to understand the challenges of the process itself and help protect that strategy from bug squashers.
I could surely write pages on this one issue (complete with countless examples), but to be as direct as possible in answering the “From whom should I solicit feedback” question, I would simply say this: “the people in the room.” Whatever the decision is that’s being made, from a new visual identity to an updated website, the decision-makers need to be in the room. They need to be the ones with a rock-solid understanding of the company at hand, they have to be invested in the future of the organization, and they have to be…present. We feel strongly that process is important, and every conversation that takes place leads to a series of decisions and new conclusions; small course-corrections that move us all, collectively, to an end product that is a success. As a believer in feedback and opinions, it’s not that I don’t value what your second cousin Stan has to say, it’s just that in this case, Stan’s input doesn’t come with the same background or weight as yours.
This all boils down to one thing – a lesson that we’ve come to realize flies in the face of much of how people are trained to operate: groupthink is not the answer. There’s a reason that “argumentum ad numerum” (the idea that something is true because a great number of people believe it) is considered to be a fallacy (apparently I love Latin fallacies…just ask Scott about post hoc ergo propter hoc). For certain decisions, consensus is crucial, but for others, namely every one that exists in our industry, it’s the very thing that can lead to watered-down, middle-of-the-road crap. Inventiveness and creativity need to be driven by insane believers with a clear vision. Commit to who you are and what you’re doing, believe in it, guard it from being squashed, and then put it out into the world — people can sense vision, and you’d be amazed at how quickly your belief becomes theirs.