WE’RE SO CLEVER WE’RE STUPID

Andrew Haldane is the Bank of England’s Executive Director for Financial Stability.
Big title.
He gave a speech to an international audience about learning from the last financial crisis and avoiding the next one.
He asked a simple question.
Who is better at catching a Frisbee, a dog or a physicist?
Start with the problem.
Catching a Frisbee involves a mind-numbingly complex series of physical and atmospheric factors.
Wind direction and speed, the Frisbee’s rotation, the curve of its trajectory, the Frisbee’s weight against the force applied, the density of the air pressure.
The physicist is clearly much more qualified to work out all these equations than a dog is.
Yet we all know, the average dog is better at catching Frisbees than the average physicist.
How can that be?
The physicist knows all the answers, the dog doesn’t know any of the answers.
So how come the dog is better at catching Frisbees?
The answer is simple.
Or rather it should be but it isn’t.
Haldane says we’ve made the whole process too complicated.
Trying to apply every single detail about every conceivable piece of knowledge is the enemy of fast, effective action.
Understanding is a good thing.
But trying to apply complex, detailed understanding during the process of doing something creates uncertainty and ineffectiveness.
Paralysis even.
Haldane says this is exactly what’s gone wrong with the world’s economy.
It’s become far too complicated.
The original guide for protecting against banks going bust ran to 30 pages.
The latest version runs to 616 pages.
We have whole departments of experts dedicated to making things complicated.
Consequently we can understand in great detail why things went wrong, afterwards.
We just can’t do anything about it.
Doesn’t that remind you of what we do?
Are you old enough to remember when people used to say “the adverts are better than the programmes”.
When we kept it simple.
Kept it fun.
But everything is now more complicated than that.
Now we have many layers of people with different titles to each be an expert at some small area of advertising.
They say the old interruption model is dead.
They say it’s about permission, and interaction, and content, and conversation.
And we’ve managed to make advertising so complicated, people don’t like the ads anymore.
In fact now they really are an interruption and a nuisance.

We’re smarter than a dog, and yet more stupid.

  • paul c-c

    Great post Dave & I whole heartedly agree. Keep it simple

  • Oliver Bealby

    Be more dog?

    • dave trott

      Nice one Oliver

  • Richard Neville

    Good point well made. So remind me why nearly every agency in the land makes the same mistake every time they take on a project?

  • slabman

    It’s a lovely point, well made but I have to quibble a little. There are quite a few young physicists in California who are great at the activity of catching frisbees. But if you need a mathematical model for predicting the behaviour of a frisbee, I’d suggest that a dog will get stuck pretty quickly

  • Dave Trott

    Fair point Slabman.
    That’s why I wrote “the AVERAGE dog is better at catching Frisbees than the AVERAGE physicist.”

  • Simon Guest

    Great post Dave. It’s often the case that when think something is not working we knee jerk in to trying to find a new and different way of doing things. When in fact we should first look to improve and fix what once worked so successfully.

  • idiot

    Its complicated because that’s what your bosses want, a complex difficult to understand system, shoved down the throats of dog like civilians. Bitcoin will win unless your big wigs the Rothschild’s kill it.

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