Around 2,500 years ago, Thucydides predicted Brexit.
He wasn’t writing about Brexit of course, he was writing about the Peloponnesian wars.
But see if this sounds familiar:
“In general, the men of lower intelligence won out.
Afraid of their own shortcomings and of the intelligence of their opponents, so that they would not lose out in reasoned argument or be taken by surprise by their quick-witted opponents, they boldly moved into action.
Their enemies, on the contrary, contemptuous and confident in their ability to anticipate, thought there was no need to take by action what they could win by their brains.”
To update that, compare it with what journalist Matt Chorley recently wrote about Brexit:
“Once again while the Remainers spent a lot of time talking to each other, not ruling anything out, keeping options on the table, forming groupings, having meetings, plotting plans and planning plots, they’ve been totally wrong-footed by more decisive opponents.”
So basically, in 2,500 years we’ve learned nothing.
We still value process above results, we still value form above function.
Or, as Rory Sutherland says: “The overeducated technocratic elite would rather be precisely wrong than vaguely right.”
Why is this?
In his book ‘The Stupidity Paradox’, Mats Alveson puts it like this:
“For over a decade we studied hundreds of people in dozens of organisations.
We were constantly struck by how these organisations, which employ so many people with high IQs and impressive qualifications, could do so many stupid things.”
Here are some of the examples he gives:
“Executives who are more interested in impressive power-point shows than genuinely useful analysis.
Technology firms more interested in keeping a positive tone than solving problems.
Marketing executives obsessed with branding over any innovative thinking.
Corporations investing millions in ‘change exercises’ and when they fail doing exactly the same thing again and again.
Senior military personnel more interested in rebranding exercises than military exercises.”
It seems what all these people have in common is the paralysis of thinking.
At GGT, we began the first real agency-wide traffic system.
It happened after we won a pitch and were given six months to produce a campaign.
Creative didn’t even get briefed until the planners had spent over five months thinking and talking about the brief.
Then creative got the two weeks that were left, and when we presented the campaign it was rejected because the brief was wrong.
After that, we had a traffic system where every department performed to a deadline.
One of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs, Peter Wood, once told me his motto: “Do it, then fix it.”
Don’t wait to get it perfect before you start, it’ll never be perfect so you’re wasting time.
Bill Shankly once asked a young striker why he’d hesitated and lost the ball in front of the opposition’s goal.
The youngster said: “I couldn’t decide whether to lob the keeper, nutmeg him, or send him the wrong way.”
Shankly said: “Look son, if you ever find yourself in front of goal with the ball at your feet, just stick it in the net and we’ll discuss all your options afterwards.”
Or as Patton said: “A good plan executed today is better than a great plan tomorrow.”