A hard truth

We could probably start any meeting with a hard truth: "this might not work".

Arguably the quickest way to lose a sales pitch. Arguably the most reasonable thing we'll say during the following two hours.

This, of course, isn't an adage for negativity. The truth is, the creative industries are based on uncertainty. There are no rules, just guidelines. There are case studies which are the result of a very unique set of variables, which renders benchmarks as yet another uncertain thing. There are insights which may be true for us but false for everyone else we're trying to reach, shattering the whole strategic approach (and its effects) to pieces.

Advertising, according to The Ad Contrarian, is like exercise:

There are no guarantees. Just like exercise, sometimes advertising backfires. You can take off on a 5 mile run and have a heart attack after 10 minutes.  Or you could run for a year and wind up with a gimpy knee. You never know.

This is true for anything that involves subjective concepts, such as creativity, impact or persuasion. We may have the experience, the data and the insights to guide our strategy, respond to the brief and deliver results. But the fact is it might not work, and it's important that everyone realizes that.

Gary A. Klein, quoted by Daniel Kahneman, proposes an interesting exercise:

Imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.

Every strategy has (potential) flaws. Imagining the worst possible outcome is the best way to ensure they are covered. So being aware of these flaws should not be our priority, but it should be implanted in our own heads early on. Not as a means to limit thought, but as a way to avoid losing ourselves in our own distorted perceptions of what we're dealing with. And, of course, as a way of managing everyone's expectations and always having a backup plan.

To this hard truth there is a solution. If we believe this might not work, then we better have 1) a compelling argument about why it might and 2) the right mindset to quickly adapt our course if it doesn't. Considering the effects of priming in our lives, we should definitely take time to talk about the worst possible outcome. Because if we only focus on the pros, any con will be a bad surprise. But if we acknowledge the fact that we might fail, we can steadily work towards never reaching that point.