Tag Archives: creative

Ants, Advertising and Better Decision Making

Inside view of an ant’s brain

What’s the best way to make a decision? Should you go rogue, or consult with a group? New research about ants gives insight into decision making that you can tryout with picking movies or cracking a gnarly marketing problem.

Popping up an idea into a bold advertising campaign, for example, requires dozens if not hundreds and thousands of decisions. Clients, writers, art directors, account managers, photographers, and animators make them individually or collectively.

Going solo, the psychological impact of excessive choice is overwhelming and counterproductive to decision making. This is why we sometimes settle for the tried and true, like ordering the same latte every day, because you don’t have time to explore the other 40 options.

For people in advertising, especially, settling is not an option. The same old, same old, doesn’t work. So how can we make better creative decisions?

For better results, act like an ant.

By studying ants, Temnothorax rugatulusants, Scientists at the Arizona State University showed that six-legged creatures are just as vulnerable to information overload as we are.

In the experiment, a single ant, and then a colony of ants were unleashed to find the most suitable of eight possible nests. The ants had to consider a number of variables, including the size and darkness of the prospective dwelling, and the characteristics of, and the and opening to their nests, and the size of the opening. In other words, house hunting.

Single ants made poor choices 50% of the time. But the group of ants shared Intel through scents and made better decisions. It’s fascinating that the ants were able to synthesize, when only one had visited all eight nests. “One of them visited all eight nests, but most colony members visited only one or two nests, said Dr. Takao Sasaki, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

“What we really want is a more complete understanding as to how this society works as a kind of distributed brain,” said co-researcher and associate professor Stephen Pratt. He further suggests that this type of “distributed brain” may have uses in robotics. Our brains work in a similar way. The frontal cortex takes charge of problem solving after considering decisions made by other parts of the brain.

The downside of collective decision-making is speed, and potential group think. But if you’re ultimate goal is to make an important choice, you’ll do better if you listen to the IT guy, engineering, marketing, and customers, and, of course, the ad agency. None of them will have the complete picture, but exposing additional facets, facts, and conclusions will result in better decision.

In a complex, technological society, no one can has all the answers. So, instead of squishing the next ant you see, you might want to start acting like one.

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Head Banging: Listen to Your Characters

In Stephen King’s “On Writing,” the novelist compares writers who map out the plot points of their books to those who observe and follow their characters. Plot points lead to more predictable results, King observes. But breakthroughs happen when you follow your characters or ideas.
This is a common problem for planners and creative alike. We pressure ourselves to develop strategies based on data and insights. But creative brilliance or abject failure comes from following ideas and their development. The solution is the willingness to set strategy aside, and be willing to fail over and over before you succeed. And that’s a test of real character.

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Better Brainstorming: An Alien Idea

Brainstorming is a great tool for generating large quantities of ideas quickly, whether it’s a bunch of guys at the bellied up to the bar speculating on the World Series, or mystical creative types clad in black thinking up an expensive name for a watch.

But it doesn’t work all the time. The majority can overrule the quirky minority. There’s the rush to judgment, self congratulations, and the urge to put the problem to rest. Depending on the importance of your idea, this can be dangerous, indeed.

Maybe there’s an antidote breaks down group think. We hypothesize that using SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and parallel computing as a model may provide an alternative.

Every day, Seti taps a network of hundreds of thousands of personal computers linked by the internet. These computers crunch data, and send the results back to Seti’s Super Computer.

So what happens if thinking and creating are distributed?

  • More people from more walks of life and cultures can be tapped via the internet.
  • Experience within a creative culture, e.g. an advertising agency is downplayed.
  • We would expect more solutions faster.
  • Everyone doesn’t need to receive the same data input.
  • People can be assigned to explore risky directions.

In this scenario, quantity of solutions becomes the focus. Participants should be paid based on the number of their contributions versus their quality. Meanwhile, back at the home office,
the work becomes more editorial.

What works, what doesn’t, what’s practical? And, it’s very possible that the modality of thinking reverts back to conventional brainstorming. It’s the best of both worlds!

Your first task is to build the network. The people who are outside your field, may very well be, the most valuable. And don’t forget mom!

Great ideas can come from anyplace, even outer space. Let’s experiment with casting a wider net.

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