Nelson wanted to attack the French fleet anchored at the mouth of the Nile.
The French knew he was coming.
So they did exactly the right thing according to conventional wisdom.
They anchored their ships in a long line parallel to the shore.
So close to the shore that no one could get in behind them.
This meant they could present a massive broadside to the British fleet as it attacked.
It also meant they could pack everything they didn’t need out of the way on the other side.
So they ran out all their guns ready, on the seaward side, facing Nelson’s fleet.
They stacked all the hammocks, and everything they didn’t need, on the other side of the ship, facing the shore.
They knew it was safe to do this because they’d anchored as close to the shore as they could possibly get.
No one could get behind them.
So the British would have to come from the open sea.
As they stood ready on the guns facing the British fleet a strange thing happened.
The British ships came in behind them, between them and the shore.
And opened fire on the defenceless side of the French fleet.
The side that didn’t have any guns run out.
The side where the guns were covered in hammocks, boxes, rope, anything that would get in the way.
The side that had anchored so close to the shore no one could get in.
But they did get in.
And they blew the daylights out of the French fleet because they couldn’t get to their guns.
The French flagship, Orient, exploded in a massive ball of flame.
They heard it ninety miles away.
Only two out of seventeen French warships escaped.
So what went wrong?
How did Nelson manage to get his ships in where conventional wisdom said there was no room for a ship?
Well the clue is that the French anchored as close to the shore as they could.
Because of slight changes in the wind a ship will always move around its anchor.
So they anchored close enough that, if the wind moved, they could swing in an arc around their anchor, without hitting the shore.
So, when they were parallel to the shore, ready for the attack, there was just enough room to get another ship in behind them.
Which is what Nelson did.
The French Admiral used conventional wisdom.
He’d read all the accepted practices.
He’d memorised all the case histories.
He did everything right according to the book.
Then Nelson did the opposite of the book.
Because he didn’t think much of the people who wrote the book.
He saw depending on conventional wisdom as a potential weakness.
Because anyone who did that was predictable.
They wouldn’t do anything unexpected.
They weren’t creative thinkers.
Which was very handy for Nelson.
Because he was a creative thinker.
And it allowed him to do the unexpected.
He won most of his victories against people who went by the book.
People who were easy to predict.
Luckily for Nelson 90% of sailors went by the book.
In fact 90% of everyone goes by the book.
So they’re easy to predict.
They’re not creative.
90% of advertising is done by the book.
Which is why 90% of it is obvious and predictable.
It’s not creative.
Which is why 90% of advertising doesn’t work.
As Oscar Wilde said “Conventional wisdom is certainly conventional, but it isn’t wisdom.”