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And so I quit the police department
This week: the psychology of extremism, everything you need to know about brands, and how Kenya got its name.
I AM A CONTENT MACHINE
Last week I delivered my new book to the publisher (WHOO HOO). Hence the longer gap than usual between Ruffians (you didn't even notice, did you?). Almost the first thing I did afterwards was write a column about the agonies of writing - I know, poor me. I argue that doing nothing can be productive, a theory I intend to test to destruction in the next few weeks (seriously if you want to meet up or get me to consult on something this is a good time to call). This week I also recorded a new episode of Polarised in which Matthew Taylor and I discussed the changing nature of the electorate, referring in part to my previous New Statesman column, here, on the rise of anti-establishment voting.
When I encounter people with extreme or radical political views I'm struck by how they have different ways of processing information and reaching conclusions to me. We're not just disagreeing on policy, we have a completely different mindset. This interesting paper explores the "cognitive style" of extremists, whether left or right (it chimes with the theme of my New Statesman piece on simplism). The authors find that extremists take a much more black-and-white view of the world, drawing very firm lines between different categories of people, and that this habit derives from "psychological distress" (it sounds more like unease, or insecurity). Adopting a more extreme ideology, the researchers suggest, is a way of finding meaning in a frighteningly meaningless world. They find that extremists tend to be massively over-confident in their political opinions. That rings true. For extremists, moderates must seem infuriatingly wishy-washy and complacent. To moderates like me, extremists come across as strident and overbearing and maddeningly incapable of considering whether or not they're wrong. But - not to be patronising or anything - we moderates should have sympathy with extremists: they are staving off the howling void inside.
HOW BRANDS WORK
People in advertising/marketing love a buzzword. The latest new, new thing is "brand experience", which refers to the whole of a consumer's interactions with a brand, on and offline. Management consultants, who have muscled on to ad agency turf, use brand experience to imply that what agencies do - ads - isn't so important any more. That may be true, but the phrase is essentially meaningless, in the sense that it adds nothing to the sum of our knowledge, as the veteran ad strategist and author Paul Feldwick explains in this beautifully lucid article. The piece is useful just as a primer on the basic truths of brand marketing. If anyone asks you how brands work, you can send them here. The rest is noise.
YOU SPIN ME ROUND
Revolving doors make me anxious. This blog post, by an expert on automatic doors, confirms my suspicion that they are the most dangerous form of egress and ingress known to man. The author argues that the problem is the "unpredictable and erratic behaviour of the average door user". In other words, the doors would work fine if it weren't for people using them.
British colonialists in East Africa came upon an imposing snow-capped mountain that the locals called Kirinyaga (where God dwells). The British couldn't pronounce it - too many bloody syllables, what? - and called it Mount Kenya instead. Hence the country name. Many African countries got their names in similarly random ways, as this excellent short article explains.
Morgan Housel is a U.S. fund manager who blogs. There are quite a few of those, I mean these guys love, love to share their wisdom, but - and I hate to say it - Housel really is brilliant at it. A few months ago I linked to his excellent post on universal laws of human behaviour. His latest is on three big things that will shape the world in the decades to come.
DEPT. OF UNNOTICED SUCCESS
Since the collapse of Thomas Cook, the Civil Aviation Authority has repatriated all 140,000 stranded passengers. That's an incredibly complicated operation to pull off yet we haven't read much about it, precisely because it was performed so efficiently.
SELLING LIKE A BOSS
I loved this piece about working as a telemarketer and what the author learned about selling from Glengarry Glen Ross. It made me want to see the movie again, and reminded me of what an amazing playwright David Mamet is (was). It's also fascinating on the nature of selling, and as a bonus (!) the whole thing can be read as an oblique commentary on Donald Trump.
WHY DID THE MEN CROSS THE ROAD
One of the best things about finishing the book has been time to wallow in the 2019 edition of Abbey Road, the last album The Beatles recorded. The new edition makes the album sound even more amazing (it was beautifully engineered to begin with but has been polished up) and includes a lot of great outtakes and studio chatter. I highly recommend this edition of the books podcast Backlisted, in which the gang discusses books about The Beatles. It's full of perceptive observations and great anecdotes. I particularly liked David Hepworth's point that one big reason we're so interested in the story of this band as well as its music, is that The Beatles bequeathed us an unusually tight narrative structure. Most successful bands dribble on for years, splitting up, getting back together, making many albums of varying quality. The Beatles explode on to the scene in 1963, change the world, and then, seven years later, they're out. Beginning, middle, The End. Hepworth says he likes to think of the Abbey Road cover as an image of four men going home after work. Job done.
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