The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Difference Between Science Fiction And Fiction Is Time …
August 14, 2007, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment


So we’ve been given a brief to try and encourage students to take up engineering rather than follow the more popular courses like marketing and communication.

We’re still working on the strategy, but one thing we find pretty interesting is that engineers have it in their capability to beat the laws of nature.

Think about it … helicopters and planes allow us to fly, dams can stop torrents of water and skyscrapers can counter incredible winds and earthquakes to name but a few. 

Isn’t that amazing? We think so …

New York 059 - Picasso

From our perspective – engineering is more than just about ‘making stuff’, it’s the ultimate demonstration of global creativity and yet society tends to not see it that way.

I personally find it very sad that creativity seems to have been pigeon holed into the ‘output’ of certain industries or arts – as opposed to being associated with anything [and I mean anything] where the aim is to create something new/better thanks to brains and imagination and skill.

Of course there are many reasons for this, but I personally feel Governments have a lot to answer for.

As far as I am concerned, they are cheating themselves by not allowing most of the capabilities from most of its people to come out and shine.

Whether it’s their lack of educational investment … their  focus on ‘business courses’ … or their reluctance to allow creativity to flourishin the young … their actions are resulting in a World where dramatic innovation is not only becoming less frequent [except maybe in the medical industry] but is creating a society that is experiencing incredible levels of parity, frustration and unfulfilment.

I recently watched a doco where a successful engineer was asked what he felt would be the ultimate invention.

After some consideration, he replied, “To create other inventors” … he’s probably right and I hope we can help make that happen in a small way.

James Dyson — inventor

50 Comments so far
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All true but can enginerering make you anorexic, vapid and celebrity obsessed? I think not.

If you haven’t checked out Ken Robinson on this subject, I think you should.

Comment by John Dodds

Speaking of celebrity obsession, your prey is currently in Chicago. Why aren’t you?

Comment by John Dodds

This is a great post and I really think where your heads are is a great and exciting territory. Unfortunately you’re right that creativity has lost its prestige and is now too aligned with particular industries rather than an overall mindset, but whether that is Governments fault or ad agencies who have been saying for too long that creativity comes in 30 second increments is open to debate. You’re like Sir Ken but without the title 🙂

Comment by Pete

And the title of this post is great as well.

Comment by Pete

To your point John, I’m not so sure. I guess it all depends whether you think someone as beautiful as Angelina was created by nature or an engineer who watched the movie ”Weird Science” when he was a kid 🙂

Comment by Pete

publicise me as a creative engineering director and every fucker gets their brief solved in 2 seconds flat. why the fuck do we need planners? waste of fucking skin 🙂 the issue with engineering is similar to adlands except we dont have a problem attracting the masses, we just cant/dont/wont train them to think beyond the standard definition of an ad. twats

Comment by andy@cynic

Andy@Cynic is a rightperson! I left engineering school to become an adwanker and immediately fell about laughing… “you mean you just MAKE THIS SHIT UP?!”

I couldn’t stand it so I evolved in the direction of that engineer’s version of advertising, Direct Marketing. At least we trained people (sometimes) in that field and knew if what we did worked or not.

Anyway – beyond all that, yes, can we have some officially certified Creative Engineering Directors or Marketing Architects please?

Comment by Gredge

PS: Einstein is pointing to the word “ass”… hng hng hng…

Comment by Gredge

An analysis of the problems would take a long time but would include: seperation of academics from artists; specialisation within science departments; and conservatism of UK academia which, I think, is connected to the lack of exposure to quick commerce (where is the UK equivalent of MIT?).

And again, the solution is complex. But I think the right market need is there for a solution to be found. People are doing media courses because they recognise the importance of the media. They just have not realised that they would be better off studying physics or engineering (as a first degree) as these would help them understand technology and teach them how to create abstract models of real life situations.

Very simply, a media/tech/knowledge world needs engineers and physicists that can think media/tech. One hopes that the UK will find a way to provide them.

Comment by James

so gredge, do you reckon direct marketing is the engineering of advertising do you? you reckon anyone in any other discipline makes things up? dont go there because youll only come across as one of those myopic fuckers who doesnt realise data just tells you what happened in the past, not why.

Comment by andy@cynic

actually Gredge, I’ve always considered Andy as a left person.

Comment by marcusbrown

Great topic. Enjoying the conversation too.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

and one of the biggest fucking problems with advertising is they think it is a fucking science. yeah some things have scientific value but if we fucking approach communication with a defined fucking blueprint that covers every element and boils out anything with vitality and excitement then you end up with the sort of shit put out by banks, microsoft or mcanns. i am pro dm, im just not fucking blinkered to it and im certainly not a believer it is any more fucking effective than a great idea from a great insight expressed in whatever channel with flair, imagination and energy. can you tell im fucked off? can you? can you?

Comment by andy@cynic

ive just spoken to rob who is stuck in an airport and wishes he could get to a computer to rant about how this topic is evolving. it kills me to say this but hes a fucking smart planning wanker and even he feels the industry is too often up its own arse spouting science in an attempt to try and feel important and valuable to a community that couldnt give a fuck about us. science can be used in developing insight but it means fuck all unless it can then be turned it into something motivating, exciting and imaginative which too many people are forgetting in favor of a fucking approach akin to writing an instruction guide for a 1989 video recorder. its not science we need in advertising, its fucking common sense. pity the client im just about to go and see. im not in the mood for any shit. thanks gredge, youve woken me up.

Comment by andy@cynic

Isn’t it arguable that short-term creativity is an end in iteself whereas the engineer’s creativity takes time but has a greater impact since it’s about “making things better” in every sense of that phrase?

Comment by John Dodds

This is not just about science in advertising, surely? I thought it was about how to explain to kids that thinking like an engineer is useful.

But if we are going to talk about science and advertising or, to make it broader, evidence based business decision making, lets be clear: an empirically based solution might be limited; but one that doesn’t look at any data is just irresponsible.

Comment by James

Rob stuck impotently in an airport and Andy being accused of swinging both ways and being irresponsible. This could get heated.

Comment by John Dodds

The common link bewteen science and communication is a desire to discover something we don’t know and in the pursuit of that “something” come up with something magical. It’s like looking past a very distant star in order to see that it’s there.

In both science and advertising you can go the wrong way and try and support something you don’t know with stuff that is considered to be correct. The leads to boring shit that either doesn’t work, or only works a little.

That may sound a bit soppy, but it’s something I really believe in.

Comment by marcusbrown

The way people act, decide, and buy is NOT scientific. It is rarely rational. So how can you possibly think of targeting these three aspects of the public in a solely scientific way?

Its the whole ad vs design issue that there are still FAR too few people who understand both science and creative, so instead of a sensible but effective combination of the best of both; we end up with less effective polarised jockeying.

Its posts like these that remind me just why we like Rob and Andy so much.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

For advertising – it’s not an art, it’s not a science, and there are healthy amounts of going on blind faith/making stuff up.

Then knocking it down, and trying again; whether you use conventionally ‘artistic’ or ‘scientific’ techniques.

And Rob, as for recruitment in engineering, I’m not surprised, and agree with you. God knows I think it’s bad enough in advertising – so I’m co-writing a blog on the subject ( I think the notion of crushing creativity has to tie in to persistence in some way – knowing that getting a job you really want is often bloody hard, and takes real effort.

Manage to enforce those two on young wannabe engineers, and I reckon things will take off.

Comment by Will

Only the daft DM guy said solely scientific.

But Rob, are you saying that advertisers can afford to ignore stats based on empirical measures?

If you’re not, then fine, but this does mean that ad men, and all smart business people, need to understand stats (just like stats men need to understand all the other types of theory/sense). And those that refuse to understand are just as dangerous as a scientist who does not read novels.

Comment by James

Woohoo! Here we go… Andy Mad Person, I’m glad you’re awake, but far out the thread has gone a bit bung.

We’ve shifted from “why kids don’t fancy engineering” (answer: they think it’s boring, dirty and low-paid spanner-wielding, and apart from Mythbusters, nobody is making it appear otherwise*), to “we don’t need science, we need common sense!”

Common sense works a treat when putting up a tent. But if you want to build Bilbao, or the Opera House, you want a BIG FUCKING IDEA — and then you want to know the strain capacity of the material you’re using to build your dream, which you can extract from *interpreting* data you already have, and maybe testing a hypothesis IN THE LAB.

And then you want a client who looks at the Big Fucking Idea, looks at the nicely drawn blueprints, looks at your team of TRAINED EXPERTS, and says, yep, you can build that. I’ll let you. It’s not going to fall over and kill me on opening day because some weak-arsed human fax machine of a client service minion diluted the glue because I made a passing comment about it looking very sticky and they didn’t know how to respond.

Data is meaningless. Interpretation of data is everything. Advertising as a Science is a dumb idea; but so is Psychology as a Hobby. I’m fed up with people who know just enough to be dangerous making up processes and dumping wrung-out nonsense on my telly with the excuse that it’s probably not going to hurt anyone.

PS: I spent THREE YEARS of my LIFE as Direct Marketing Creative Director for ****bank, repeatedly asking for – just once – a 50/50 split on some creative so we could prove that a simple idea beats the crap out of some shit offer. No dice. You’d think they owned a forest, the way they wasted paper.

*Rob if you use this on this brief I’ll break your titty-radio…

Comment by Gredge

Would this be the same bank that is now publicising their paper free , eco friendly status?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Oh and James.

Like all life, its about balance. And possibly more importantly for advertising, its about understanding that balance.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Rob – dunno if it’s the same one, but yes, they’re publicising it — by sending out letters about it. Wankers.

Comment by Gredge

Haha. Such a big business thing to do.

I love how Sainsburys promote their eco friendly reusable bags one week, then give away their magazine free to everyone the week after; and have shelves filled with hundreds of their promotional leaflets.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

apologies gredge, just brought back bad memories of some dm fucker i was forced to work with on mini. guy was a total twat.

Comment by andy@cynic

Jesus … is it a full moon? What’s been going on today?

OK … I do believe that too many people in advertising treat it like a science when the output is far more about insight and imagination – however I also am a massive believer that science CAN [and does] help generate insights which can form the underpinning of a core idea which the creatives can take and make fantastic.

The work I did on Tango, Virgin, Apple and Mini all are testimony to this approach but their power was that they helped form/validate the core insight rather than become the expression of the campaign idea.

And absolutely I value data … without it you cannot move forward or sell/justify/prove an ideas effectiveness [the only way we got to do the work we did at HHCL was by being able to prove it would work, no one spends millions based on personal opinion] … however I am very critical when people use data to just say what has occurred rather than why people reacted that way.

Put it this way – I am more about Freakonomics than Tipping Point if you know what I mean! Ha!

Comment by Rob

No. No I dont.


Comment by Rob Mortimer

With a waist like that you’re way beyond the Tipping Point1

Comment by John Dodds

But I’m on magic meals John!!!

Comment by Rob

Kudos, but you’re not meant to eat all of them at once!

Comment by John Dodds

That’s where I’ve been going wrong!

Comment by Rob

Just goes to show how important the data is!

Comment by John Dodds

The data said my weight was going up – but if I’d only practiced what I preached, I’d of understood why – I was eating a years worth of food in one day!

Comment by Robert

The old insight/implementation dilemma rears its head again.

Comment by John Dodds

what a fucking crazy blog day this has been – took me ages to wade through it all!

re: engineering – this may be a completely crap idea, but as an artist, i would really like to see the option of engineering and arts coming together in university (and not just architecture), where you can study bits of both subjects to expand your understanding from both sides of the fence through specifically developed ‘fusion’ subjects that can address exactly what gredge was discussing – combining the big idea with the big facts.

while this may not get droves of young school leavers in doing engineering courses, it might get those already with a part interest in the outcomes of engineering working in the right direction. and hopefully reduce the bad reputation that engineering students have, by adding it with the shithouse reputation art students have! ha!

Comment by lauren

For what it is worth, I really like that idea Lauren. It’s not going to start wholesale changes, but it will maybe start stopping people seeing them as 2 completely disperate disciplines.

Comment by Pete

I’m working on a similar challenge for one of my clients…but I am interested in where you got the data supporting the statement that we live in a ‘World where dramatic innovation is…becoming less frequent’.
What I’ve learned from the recent groups we’ve done with University students is that they are (in the main) exited about the dramatically changing world they live in- they talk about technology as a connecting and equalising force, that social entrepreneurship will save the world where governments can’t and that they are confident that they have the skills to navigate a world that doesn’t exist now but that they will create. They’re not waiting for anyone to facilitate their future.
It just doesn’t get more innovative or creative than that.
Does the Internet not count as a dramatic change and as a catalyst for dramatic change? How about the standardisation of shipping containers? Wind farms in China supplying 16% of energy consumption?
There are so many amazing things happening- why is it up to Governments to inspire the next generation? Rock star awesomeness is happening everywhere but there aren’t any lights shining on that activity- that would be up to us!

Comment by katiechatfield

Katie … thanks for the comment and I’ll try and explain where I am coming from with the caveat that this is a subject which is so open to interpretation that it is unlikely there will ever be a way of coming to a clear conclusion.

The other thing I need to express before I continue is that I was talking purely about technological innovation [The post was about how to encourage more people to become engineers] … I do appreciate social, cultural and economical innovation is continuing to develop at a rapid rate and I appreciate I should have maybe made that abit more obvious, ha!

OK, so what is innovation?

Well that is about as ambigious a question as you can get. What one person thinks is fresh and new, another thinks is an old idea in new clothing.

Was iPOD an innovation or a modern take on the Walkman?

Was SKYPE an innovation or a modern take on the telephone?

Was Harry Potter an innovation or a modern take on the classic archetype story?

Now you might think I am being pedantic [and I probably am 🙂 ] but these are questions that are part of the cause of the ambiguity you are calling me on.

Sure China is supplying its energy usage through the use of Wind Farms but is that really an innovation?

OK, it is societal / cultural /economic innovation – but given the technology has been there for centuries, is that something we can really claim as new?

And yes, the internet is allowing people to connect, combine and act like never before – but that’s a technology that has been around in one guise or another for a couple of decades, so is that more about cultural innovation or technological? [And then I could argue that for all the talk of us being able to now instigate massive change on a global level, there’s not been too many examples of it]

The issue I have is that much of what we PERCEIVE as innovative is more about evolution – both interms of the technology and/or the impact it has on society and/or the economy.

Sure I am basing this comment on innovation that achieves a certain level of ‘mass acceptance/acknowledgement/acclaim’ [which is where there is a massive flaw in my argument, ha] however putting medicine, the internet and the arts aside [medicine: because I acknowledge their pioneering success / internet: because I do think its impact has been nothing short of revolutionary / art: because it is too amigious to disect properly] can you really say our lives [not just our lifestyles] have been dramatically and undeniably impacted like say … the period of the last century?

I do appreciate where you are coming from and I do acknowledge I was being rather ‘dramatic’ in my statement but much of the examples you use I can counter as being evolutionary change – and while you could then counter by saying the ‘effect’ they had was societal / cultural / economic innovation, we’ll just be going round and round in circles, ha!

For what its worth, I’ve been talking about this issue with three clients of mine who all have a vested interest in this area – DISCOVERY Channel, Apple and NASA – and it always causes a massive debate mainly because invention, innovation and creativity are all open to interpretation and counter comment.

As I said, my view was based purely on technological innovation – and yes, there are more patents being registered than ever before [though we can’t forget that doesn’t mean they ever make it to production] – however interms of products that fundamentally shape the way we live [barring the elements I’ve already highlighted] people like economist Jorge Niosi, US Government Physisist Jonathan Huebner and business analyst/physicist, Theodore Modis [plus a bunch of people at New Scientist] to name but a few, agree that we are not experieincing as dramatic change than that of previous centuries – even though to be fair, we’re only 7 years into this one so maybe we should all come back later and have a look then, ha!

Saying all this, I do agree with you wholeheartedly on one thing … alot of the ‘innovation’ spouted by adwankers [thanks for that] is about as innovative as an Andrew Llyod Weber musical – and surely you won’t disagree with that ‘claim’, ha!

Comment by Robert

I don’t understand a word of what Rob has written but he mentioned Apple so I win my bet.

Comment by Billy Whizz

predictable fucker is our rob.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’ve been following this debate and feel people are mixing up the definitions of innovative, inventive and evolution.

Innovation is when you discover a totally new way to achieve something.

iPod was a new invention; well, more precisely the scroll wheel and the intergration with iTunes was, however all subsequent iPod’s (excluding iPod Video and iPhone) were/are an evolution because fundamentally the product is performing the same task.

Of course there may be certain elements within it’s circuitry that are an innovation, but the product as a whole is not. (The difference between “method” and “effect” which I think some people are mixing together )

If we follow the logic of people who were quick to criticize Rob, when a child learns to spell, that is an innovation but we all know that isn’t the case (evolution) just like the standardizion of international freight containers wasn’t an innovation; it was a moment of inventiveness as nothing fundamentally changed in terms of solving the problem, they were just clever in how they approached the issue. There also seems to be some confusion between innovation and inspiration. I read one person describe that the teacher sent into space by NASA was innovative. It is wonderful and exciting but it had nothing to do with innovation whatsoever and while it may encourage more students to take up engineering, that is about inspiration not innovation.

Finally, while we could argue the Walkman was just an evolution of the tape player, it’s format meant it was a totally new way to enjoy your personal music choice so it was absolutely an innovation, but just like subsequent iPod’s (excluding Video and iPhone) after that it generally fell into a cycle of minor adaptations and evolution.

Rob is, I think talking about technological innovations that fundamentally change and shape our lives which is why I, along with countless others, agree this area is slowing down (with a few exceptions in a few categories) in favor of evolution and iventiveness.

You criticize Rob for his view but then it seems you had to change the true definition of “innovation” to suit your argument 🙂

An innovation is old the moment it’s created, you can’t take the past to justify your argument, sorry.

Comment by Pete

Good point Pete.
Maybe that confusion is part of the problem…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Perhaps the heart of the problem is the separation of potential innovation areas from those people who can facilitate the mass adoption which Rob requires to meet his definition.

Line extensions are seemingly easier to see market potential in and are also presumed to be easier to promote whereas real innovations run the risk of alienating those nice people whose purchases are funding one’s nice executive lifestyle. It’s that mindset which is just as problematic as the supposed lack of innovation.

Comment by John Dodds

I think I should point out that Rob probably has a lot to do with this potential downturn in technological innovation because every time he meets the Apple guys, he reminds them that when they were purely focused on innovation, they almost went bankrupt and when they started mastering existing technologies, they became rich. There you have it, conclusive proof Rob Campbell is a virus. 🙂

Comment by George

Oh well look at smug-pants George taking the fucking piss!

Yes, I have said that to them from time to time – but it’s wasn’t because I wanted them to stop innovating was it? No, it was to remind them that from a corporate perspective, they needed to focus on innovations that had purpose [ie: solved fundamental human needs/wants/problems] as opposed to just spending the majority of their time working on things that [1] just interested them or [2] were being done because they could.

They always have had a sense of ‘adventure’ in them, but their balance in the 80’s was all way off and I never want that company to die because they are a role model [inspiror] to many others.

Jesus man, that’s the sort of subliminal backstabbing comment I’d expect from a lawyer [or Andy] not Mr Supposed Nice Guy With 3 Kids! 🙂

Comment by Rob

george calls it as he sees it

Comment by andy@cynic

In that case I wait for George to say you are an obnoxious shit 🙂

Comment by Rob

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