Dear CMO:

I got an unexpected laugh the other day reading a pick up from Variety magazine on the success of the movie, “300”. Movie critics universally panned the film. And naturally, the audiences read the reviews, put down their newspapers, and went to see the movie in droves, setting new March box office records across the Western world. Word on the street is that the Iranians didn’t like the ending much, but other than that, it was pretty popular.

We’ve all read “The Wisdom of Crowds,” haven’t we? I did and with a few grains of salt I generally agree with the point made in the book.

Statistically relevant, randomly selected large groups of people can generally determine what is right and wrong better than hand selected experts. Perhaps it’s the mass dilution of bias or something similar.

Call me old fashioned, but I’d be one of the first to admit that I’m going to listen to experts when I think they’ve got a good chance of being more accurate than the masses. I’ll listen to my doctor before I self-medicate based on a Wikipedia entry and I’m probably not alone in this. Being a bit mechanically challenged, I usually listen to my mechanic when my car is doing something unusual. But there are many areas in life and business when subjectivity is far more prevalent than objectivity.

Which brings us back to “300”. Of course the movie got bad reviews. It wasn’t a Merchant-Ivory production, neither Ralph Fiennes nor Anthony Hopkins nor Daniel Day-Lewis appeared in it, and it didn’t take place in Victorian England. It was entertaining, though, and it possibly hit a nerve with current events in the world. And it had lots of guys with spears in it, too. You can see why people may have liked it. But this conflict of opinion points out the real insight here: critics appear to like one kind of film while audiences like another. Their aims appear to be different. And if experts are paid by audiences to help discern good from bad, there’s a problem brewing.

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Key Takeaways:

> An expert is an expert because he or she has a systematic grasp of the facts, well-supported insight, and relevant and projectable experience. If you’re working with an “expert” who offers nothing but Delphic-like pronouncements that seem to emanate through some sort of verbal slight of hand, ask for clarification until they either deliver the goods or collapse in a heap on the floor of your office. In other words, experts need more than opinions on otherwise subjective matters.

> Debunking unsupported opinions is a fiduciary duty of every person in the organization that collects a paycheck.

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How often are we faced with experts in our business lives (and personal lives, for that matter) that rely on highly subjective criteria? I’d argue that their days are numbered. In this spirit of the growing primacy of proletarian opinion-creation, here are three bold predictions:

First, ad agencies that don’t embrace testing their own creative are endangered species. If the client doesn’t demand it, suggest it. If they won’t pay for it, eat the cost, show them the results, and do the right thing.

Second, a promotions manager that doesn’t listen to customers, channel partners, and as many others as possible and test different ideas will go the way of the dodo bird.
And third, African Lowland Gorillas will outlive all movie critics and most all of the current mainstream media.
How many “experts” feed off of your budget today? How many are really “experts”?


Copyright © 2007 Stephen Denny