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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but…

You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but…

Posted on January 27, 2014 and read 4,737 times

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bayfield You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but…Mike Bayfield
Senior Copywriter
Ogilvy Dusseldorf

If you’ve never lived in the UK the name Broadmoor may not mean a lot, perhaps just somewhere to take a Sunday afternoon stroll in that green and pleasant land. But it might well be the last one you ever did, because Broadmoor is Britain’s most infamous high-security psychiatric hospital. A funny farm for people you really don’t want to make fun of.

‘Broadmoor’ is also an uncannily close anagram of ‘boardroom.’ Coincidence?

In one you can find ruthless, cold-hearted psychopaths: merciless predators who strike terror into the hearts of those around them. Then there’s Broadmoor: home to the real-life Hannibal Lecters.

You see, psychopaths come in a range of colors. And they’re not all mad, bad and dangerous to know. It’s a matter of degree. Those at the top of the scale – or the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) as it’s known in the trade – will be carrying out murders and assaults. Move a few notches further down and it’s mergers and acquisitions.

But, according to Professor Kevin Dutton of Oxford University, in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths, all of these guys (and they mostly are ‘guys’) may have something to teach the rest of us. And a few of those lessons are especially applicable to the ad business.

Under the right circumstances, certain psychopathic personality traits can actually be beneficial. Those who possess them are often valuable and responsible members of society. They perform vital roles for the greater good – like keeping us safe, healing the sick and boosting the economy.

So what are those traits and how might we exploit them?

Within the framework of clinical psychology, a psychopath is someone with a distinct cluster of them. The more positive of these are traits like fearlessness, focus, charm and persuasiveness. But there’s also narcissism, ruthlessness and lack of conscience – which is where things can start to turn really ugly. So let’s just stick with the first ones.

Psychopaths know no fear. Probably why they make great bomb disposal experts. When they’re up close and personal with a cellphone wired to a kilo of sweating Semtex their heart rates actually drop. They go into a zone of supreme calm and focus – or “supersanity”, as Dutton puts it – a laser-like ability to do whatever it takes. This ability is often shared by many in high-pressure occupations, like CEOs, neurosurgeons and lawyers. Maybe even the odd creative.

As any special forces soldier will tell you, fear is debilitating. It stops us being able to perform under pressure: like when we have to deliver that latest campaign. But hey, if an ad blows up in your face it won’t take out half the block.

Our fear is often informed by previous setbacks. A fear of the past, that becomes a fear of the future. A fear of getting it wrong. As human beings, most of us are hard-wired to play it safe.

Not your common or garden psychopath. Despite other ‘issues’, they have no such hang-ups. Setbacks never bother them. They live in the present. Not the past. Not even the future.

As one of the true-blue psychos Dutton meets in Broadmoor, Larry, says: “I think the problem is that people spend so much time worrying about what might happen, what might go wrong, that they completely lose sight of the present. They completely overlook the fact that, actually, right now, everything’s perfectly fine.”

Or, as the world-renowned clinical psychologist Bobby McFerrin put it: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Maybe Larry’s not so crazy after all. His argument is rather popular right now in boardrooms, conference halls and lecture theatres around the world – if not the padded cells of Broadmoor. It’s called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about focusing on the moment, and not being hijacked by thoughts about the past or worries about the future. If that sounds like new age mumbo jumbo, the US Marines would beg to differ. And you wouldn’t want to argue with them now would you. Troops are offered mindfulness training before going on a mission.

But for us as creatives, perhaps the most valuable lesson we can learn from psychopaths is their superhuman powers of persuasion.

Like psychopaths, we’re in the persuasion business. Some also see us as ruthless manipulators, but the bottom line is we need to persuade consumers to buy our client’s brand, rather than a competitor’s. And the most effective weapon in a psychopath’s armory is not a meat cleaver, but pure simple charm.

To charm people you have to get under their skin; find out what makes them tick. The common perception of psychopaths is that they lack empathy, the ability to put themselves in other’s shoes.

Actually psychopaths are much better at this than the rest of us. They have an uncanny ability to get inside people’s heads and understand their emotions, but just don’t experience those emotions themselves. It’s called ‘cold’ empathy. Very different from its more touchy feely, puppy-cuddling counterpart, ‘hot’ empathy.

We too have to get inside the heads of consumers, to discover how to charm them into acting – into choosing Ford over VW, Coke over Pepsi, Nike over Adidas. This is where we need to get creative, and when it comes to creativity in this sense, psychopaths also excel. They are often capable of developing highly original solutions to get others to do exactly what they want.

Kevin Dutton tells one story about a psychopath on the right side of the law: a long-serving British police officer.

He has the unenviable task of supervising the Friday might drunk tank. Every week without fail, the same guy is brought in after being thrown out of yet another bar. And every week he pulls the same shtick. He starts acting ‘crazy.’ So the cops are obliged to call in the duty psychiatrist, but it’s always the same predictable pantomime.

As soon as the shrink shows up, the drunk is all of a sudden ‘sane’. Still hammered, but definitely not whacko. And so the psychiatrist complains again about being dragged out of bed at two in the morning. For nothing. And so it goes. Until the cop channels his inner psycho.

The following Friday the drunk is dragged in again, but this time the cop changes the script. He goes to the lost property room, where he finds a clown’s costume. He puts it all on and, armed with nothing more sinister than a pen and a notepad, wanders along to the cell.

He then asks the incredulous inmate what he would like for breakfast in the morning. The drunk – who would normally be lucky to get a Styrofoam cup of water – can’t quite believe his eyes, or ears, but plays along all the same. “And how would you like your eggs?” continues the cop. “Tea or coffee with that?”

A while later when the psychiatrist shows his weary face, the drunk points to the cop. “He’s the crazy one, not me,” he jabbers excitedly and recounts the tale of the clown taking his breakfast order. The psychiatrist casts the cop a quizzical look, who just shrugs and gives a bemused smile. “Looks like we’re in business,” says the psychiatrist.

Of course psychopathy can be a very, very bad thing. The extreme psychopaths, as Dutton says, have the dials on all of the personality traits cranked up to the max. The more functional psychopaths only have some of them turned up. We just need to know which ones.

You don’t want to do anything crazy. Just think outside the box – a small, windowless concrete one. Maybe you’ll sell a few more bottles of Chianti or tins of fava beans.




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