WE’RE SO CLEVER WE’RE STUPID
Andrew Haldane is the Bank of England’s Executive Director for Financial Stability.
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.
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.