December-January 2015

OPINION: Let’s mess things up

Fiona RintoulThe best kind of research is the kind that confirms what you already believe. Thus, I was delighted to stumble across some new research from Kathleen D Vohs, professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, which demonstrates that people with untidy desks are better than people with tidy ones. Okay, Kathleen didn’t actually say better (though that’s obviously what she meant). She said they were more creative. Specifically, people locked in a messy room in her laboratory and asked to come up with new uses for ping-pong balls, came up with ideas that were 28% more creative than those produced by people locked in a tidy room and saddled with the same task.  Stay away from Kathleen’s laboratory, is the headline message here.  Anyhow, it’s clear that this is the result that Professor Vohs wanted. I discern that, like me, she likes messy desks and is deeply suspicious of tidy ones. The starting point for her research was the speculation, shared with two colleagues, that messiness, like tidiness, might serve a purpose.  “Since tidiness has been associated with upholding societal standards, we predicted that just being around tidiness would elicit a desire for convention,” she says. “We also predicted the opposite: that being around messiness would lead people away from convention, in favour of new directions.”  Of course, of course. Did anyone really expect that sitting in a room tidied to within an inch of its life would generate new directions and creativity? Like so much research, the ping-pong experiments are a kind self-fulfilling prophecy.  The same is true of the latest “nation brands” research from my old friends at Brand Finance. Last year, they were in a lather about the damage the Scottish independence referendum might do to Brand Britain. This year, you’ll be astonished to learn that “the UK total brand value has risen by 20% to $2.8 trillion”.  I won’t repeat here the arguments I made last year about Brand Britain – however catchy it may sound –  not being a suitable proxy for the brand value of the UK, as part of the UK is not in Britain. But I am surprised – and yet not surprised – to learn that while some of the increase in the UK’s brand value can be attributed to UK economic growth outstripping that in most other European states and the GREAT Britain nation brand campaign, “by far the biggest factor ... has been the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum”.  Who’d have thunk it? As I write, the Scottish independence referendum was 12 weeks ago. Allowing for a bit of research time, that means the outcome generated $840 billion (€679 billion)worth of brand value in, say, six to eight weeks.  That is unbelievable. I’m all for untidy desks but there are limits.  The Annual Report on Nation Brands is not without its uses, however. I did find one nugget amid the sea of self-fulfilling nonsense. The UK may be doing great due to “referendum relief” (please don’t take it for constipation), but it has fallen back in the talent department, and here’s why: “Efforts to curb immigration from outside the EU have made attracting the world’s brightest students more difficult for the UK’s world leading universities and most critically, its businesses.” What we need now in the UK and across the EU is a bit of right-wing extremist relief. If you want to see brand value crumble like the chaff of the summer threshing floors, usher in the far-right Eurosceptics.  I suggest an experiment. Mess up your desk. Feel the inspiration flow. Be abuzz. Now spend 20 minutes writing down new uses for Eurosceptics. Send them into Funds Europe, and we’ll call it research.  ©2014 funds europe

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