@thisisycn hosted a wonderful evening of planner reading inspiration last night and I wanted to share my talk about Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit.
What is bullshit?
We are often accused that our jobs are full of it.
We spew hot air this way and that.
But as strategists we like to know why… we are drawn to theory, even the theory of our own humbug.
I was assigned to read On Bullshit in my second year of university. So by no means am I alone in having discovered this gem: there are cultural studies grads running around the world of media and journalism knowing full well what crap they spew.
But its theory is fundamental enough that it’s worth sharing.
So what is bullshit?
Is it lying?
What lying and bullshit have in common is the deliberate intention to deceive.
But that’s about it.
For a communication to be a lie, the intent must be to deceive the audience about the subject - the content - of the communication.
So if I tell you I have red hair, this is a lie.
But if I told you I want red hair, this is bullshit.
Not that red hair is bad - in fact I quite like red hair.
But to express that I want red hair is deceiving you not about the content, but about my state of mind.
I’m deceiving you about my mind.
Likewise, if I tell you how tremendously important football is, I am not lying.
To many people, football is very important.
But to me it is not.
By telling you how tremendously important football is, I am not trying to convince you of the importance of football. Im trying to convince you we have something in common.
I recently did a project on the social role of television in Britain and this very question came up. Is football really that important?
Yes. Yes it is.
But not to me personally.
Football is important because it gives British men (for the most part) something to talk about.
Our research proved that only a small fraction of the men who like to talk about football actually care about football.
They talk about football because they want to have something in common with each other despite class, occupation, political or racial differences.
They are not deceiving each other about football.
They bullshit about football so they can deceive each other about their varied states of mind.
The social role of football is bullshit. And in this country, that makes it very, very important.
Bullshit is not a lie. Bullshit is a social tool for connecting with each other by pretending to think certain things.
In our jobs we must pretend to think things every day.
We bullshit with clients and collaborators. We bullshit among our own teams. We bullshit to try ideas on for size.
If the idea doesn’t fit, we can always put it back.
We bullshit to connect. And this makes bullshit sometimes a very very good thing.
We bullshit everyday about the weather. We are not lying about what a horrible summer we’ve had. We are lying about the fact we care.
We pretend to care about the weather, just as we do with football… simply so we have something to say.