30 May The surprising thing about certainty
Certainty. We all crave it and, in some cases, demand it from our colleagues, partners and suppliers. But of course, there is no such thing as certainty. As William Goldman said of the entertainment industry in 1983, “nobody knows anything”. Which is perhaps more true now of the communications industry. The models and assumptions we used to have about “what works” are all but a myth.
Those who are certain of outcomes are convinced of a future that fits their defined tolerances of possibility, usually based on what’s happened before. Certainty just means you haven’t thought of enough possibilities that would counter the outcome you’re expecting.
So when we convince ourselves of certainty, we risk missing the most exciting outcome – surprise. The irony is that surprise and certainty work hand-in-hand. But while certainty seeks to eliminate surprise, surprise requires certainty in order to exist. In fact, the more certain you are of an outcome that doesn’t actually eventuate, the more surprised you will be.
Genuine surprise is the outcome you couldn’t imagine when you set your expectations/signed-off on the campaign/booked the media.
When we plan a campaign, design a solution or build an interaction, we put ourselves out there. We create something and, let’s face it, creation is scary. So we convince ourselves it will work. We listen to the professionals and we buy their certainty in order to minimise our fear of failure, loss and ridicule. But manifesting outcomes beyond the expected, beyond the slight improvement on last year can elevate you to a whole new space.
How do we create more room for a surprising result? One way is to consider what a surprising outcome would look like when you’re at the planning stage. Instead of aiming for an incremental improvement on last year, imagine redefining your category, or creating an entirely new metric upon which success is dictated. Imagine all the impossible scenarios and capture them – the good and the bad. But mainly the good. Write the good ones down and store them somewhere.
Often, when future outcomes are conceptualised and visualised, they become realised. All without you doing anything more than capturing them. Some refer to this as the law of attraction. And when that happens, the surprise is spectacular. And that is certain.