Monday, 20 September 2021


When I first went into marketing I was fascinated by Ernest Dichter, the American psychologist, described as the “father of motivational research”. His analyses of why people did what they did and his books like “The Strategy of Desire” seemed more interesting than the quantitative beasts like Gallup and Nielsen, research firms that just counted stuff and produced voluminous documents.

He described his process as:

"I observe hidden clues; I listen with the third ear; I interpret. I see where others are too blind because they are too close to the trees. I find the solution….. I have acted as a discoverer, as a general on the battlefield of free enterprise."

A general on the battlefield, “yes” I said to myself, “that’s what I want to be.”

Now we live in more numerate times when the data is supposedly what drives our decision making. Over the past two years the media has contained a lot of data. Covid’s been defined by numbers…. (I hope you hear a “but” coming.) 

We in Brighton get a lot of Covid data - weekly rates of infection, hospital admissions, deaths and so on BUT I’m not sure what this means. Not really. My own experience is revealing. In the last year’s first wave of Covid I only knew few people who caught it. Currently I know at least 16 people who’ve caught it or are suffering from it. They are not hospital cases but are very unwell.

And at this point Government data contradicts my feeling that something is very much amiss. In just the same way, however loudly the Bank of England explains the absence of inflation, my own wallet says otherwise. And my own wallet is beginning to seem more reliable than the unflappable Governor of the Bank, Andrew Bailey. 

Here’s what the Office of National statistics said of the August inflation numbers:

“The increase ….is the largest increase ever recorded in the CPIH National Statistic 12-month inflation rate series, which began in January 2006; however, this is likely to be a temporary change.”

“Is likely to be?” We shall see. September is already looking like +3% with +4% on the cards.

In these transparent times great masses of data serve the same purpose as lying. They can contradict and confuse. Politicians and commentators have become skilled at choosing whatever data best serves to support their argument.

As things stand I sense (how I like that word: it’s a Dichter word) I sense like an animal smells something about to happen that the Covid spread is about to intensify through schools and universities and to us. Our mask-free, back-to-normal-society is in for a rude shock in its health and – if I’m right about inflation – its wealth. 

Meanwhile in the past week in politics the pantomime continues. “Behind you Gavin!” Commentators have described this reshuffle as a “strategic political distraction.” But the way ministers are moved around to positions they know nothing about has always baffled me. Imagine my alarm if, as I’d forged (or tried to forge) my way to being a Marketing General in the business battlefield, I’d been told: “Congratulations you’re the Finance Director now.”  

I loved this from James Poniewozik, the New York Times journalist:

“Politics has always been a mud fight – better that citizens jump in the trough than lose interest.”

No chance of that. Most people love mud fights and I sense this is going to a long winter of mud fights. Me? I'm putting on my uniform, polishing my medals and I’m off to the battlefield to join in.

1 comment:

John Eustace said...

Delighted to see you remain curious and more so seeking context of data being spewed out to confuse and usually contradict what our blink moments tell us.

I'm sure you've already read it but
How to make the world add up by Tim Harford of the FT

Delves into battle for meaningful HONEST data

Pip Pip