Ideas which represent our understanding
June 14, 2006
Freakonomics led me to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
In his book 'The Affluent Society' he coined the term conventional wisdom with the following defininition:
We associate truth with convenience...with what most closely accords with self-interest or personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem. Economic and social behavior are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.
Now I believe that what you do becomes the dominant ametphor by which you understand the world. The danger with that is that everything is interpreted in those terms, or, to steal from Mark Twain:
"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
With that caveat in place, I'd like to suggest that Galbraith's definition of conventional wisdom could also be applied to succesful brands, which makes sense as he is talking about ideas that have lodged themselves into the popular consciousness - something that brands are also trying to achieve.
So perhaps brands should seek to inherit a similar territory: provide convenient truths that offer well-being, contribute to self esteem and provide cognitive short cuts to complex concepts.
Then perhaps people will adhere to these rafts of ideas because they represent our understanding.