Blinded by Science

More than 15 years ago, a colleague at the time, Greg Grosh, gave me a book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. I’ve thought a lot about that book lately and have pulled it from my shelf to re-read key passages.

Here’s an excerpt from a review by Nicholas Wade in Science magazine that may give you a hint as to why the book has been on my mind:

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field…It is written with a combination of depth and clarity that make it an almost unbroken series of aphorisms. Its author wastes little time on demolishing the logical empiricist view of science as an objective progression toward the truth.”

“Instead he erects from ground up a structure in which science is seen to be heavily influenced by non-rational procedures, and in which new theories are viewed as being more complex than those they usurp but not as standing any closer to the truth…Science is not the steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge that is portrayed in the textbooks. Rather, it is a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions…in each of which one conceptual world view is replaced by another…”

Wow – pretty amazing stuff, huh? Wade’s phrase – “peaceful interludes, punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions” – especially resonates with me. Who among hasn’t been “blinded by the science” of those smooth charts and line graphs in hundreds of PowerPoint presentations documenting the waves of technology in an unerring progress towards whatever the presenter wants you to believe is the next wave?

Kuhn’s essay refutes any notion of this premise in his powerful, book-length essay. Along the way, he writes about how the aggregation of methods, theories, and processes take the shape of what he dubs “a paradigm” and then describes how paradigms resist change.

At this particular moment in history, Kuhn’s essay gives me pause with two concerns: The first concern is that there is an even greater risk for paradigms to increasingly resist change, because the scientific community, its supporting ecosystem (i.e., funders, project sponsors, material supply chain, etc.), and their public observers are magnified by the global reach of social media and instant communications.

You could argue that social media also magnify and amplify the opposing views in a debate. And that’s a fair argument, if you assume that it involves participants from many disciplines. This leads to my second concern, the decline in creativity – for “other” thinking.

Another colleague pointed me to the current story in Newsweek, “The Creativity Crisis,” in which it cites a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs that identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. The potential consequences of a decline in American creativity are sweeping, because the necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed.

A combination of right-brain/left-brain thinking proves time and again to yield the best results on big problems. Take a fun, but telling example, like my daughter Lauren’s alma mater, St. Olaf, where its first-year team won the national “Rube Goldberg” competition.  The “secret of their success?”…it was an interdisciplinary team of artists and engineers, social and hard science majors, young men and women.

With the decades’-long reduction in public school arts education and gifted programs, we have brewed a bitter gruel for ourselves, producing kids who are, overall, better performers according to standards in the core subjects of math, science, and language skills, but at the expense of critical thinking and the necessity of ingenuity that are fueled by creative arts.

Companies, large and small, can help to stem and begin reversing this creative decline, not only in their existing workforce, but in the future one as well. Support the creative arts in your community:

  • Offer “scholarships” by buying a block of discounted tickets to give to kids, especially those who can’t afford them, for performances at the opera, the ballet, or the museum.
  • Take a company outing to a high school or college musical…it’s kitschy, it’s cheap fun, and the theater programs need the support.
  • There’s a hundred other ways to support the creative industries beyond this…many of them low, and often no, cost.

We can’t afford to do otherwise, for our economic well-being, competitiveness, and national future. As always, I hope to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

Dreamy Guys and Gorgeous Girls

I was responding to a friend’s request to provide some “marketing” advice recently and it compelled me to write about the experience.

I place “marketing” in quotes because, as my friend’s questions symbolized, there is a pervasive lack of comprehension (ignorance, to be precise, although it’s a little judgmental sounding) about marketing. When a vast majority of people ask me about “marketing” advice, what they are really seeking is tactical, promotion “how to’s” and marketing communications techniques.

But in the spirit of being helpful, I usually try to do two things when such advice is sought. First, I try to respond to their perceived promotion needs. Often, I start by providing them the list below, from the classic college textbook on marketing by Philip Kotler – $170 new, but worth every penny. 

While it’s not an exhaustive list, it’s still an eye-opening one when people see it, because so often they are focused on (a) SEO/SEM and (b) social media – which is kind of like saying 60-plus years ago “I’m focused on TV.”


  • Print, broadcast, e-mail and web
  • Packaging – outer
  • Packaging – inserts
  • Mailings
  • Catalogs
  • Motion pictures
  • House magazines
  • Brochures and booklets
  • Posters and leaflets
  • Directories and databases
  • Commons and reprints
  • Billboards
  • Display signs
  • Point-of-purchase displays
  • Symbols & logos

Sales promotion

  • Contests, games, sweepstakes, lotteries
  • Premiums, gifts and free- or shareware
  • Sampling and downloads
  • Fairs and tradeshows
  • Exhibits
  • Demonstrations
  • Couponing
  • Rebates
  • Low-interest financing
  • Entertainment
  • Trade-in allowances
  • Trading cards, stamps, badges
  • Tie-ins

Public relations

  • Press kits
  • Speeches
  • Seminars
  • Annual reports
  • Charitable donations, including pro bono services and in-kind product
  • Social impact ventures/investments
  • Sponsorships
  • Publications
  • Lobbying and advocacy
  • Identity and other brand media
  • Search engine optimization

Personal selling

  • Sales presentations
  • Webinars
  • Sales meetings
  • Direct marketing (including telemarketing, direct mail)
  • On demand or click-to- Chat
  • Incentive programs

The second thing I try to do is provide a quick reminder as to what the discipline of marketing really involves, versus marketing communications or sales-marketing promotion.

Without trying to be a jerk about it, I try to explain that using the word “marketing” as shorthand for promotion is like using the word “elephant” when what you really have in mind is the wet nostril of its trunk. Not entirely inaccurate, but a poor choice of terms for what the proverbial pachyderm is all about.

The chart at the beginning of this post, from Pragmatic Marketing, is usually a pretty handy reference for driving this point home. That is why they remain, in my opinion, the standard for professional education for the field of marketing, especially for high tech businesses. 

Not to stray too far off-topic, but occasionally I’ll have someone tell me that the simple metaphor for “marketing” they use is one that you’ve probably read, which relies on a range of male pick-up lines for the illustration. The version I’ve seen circulating for more than a decade usually starts off with “a guy going up to a gorgeous girl and saying ‘you know, I’m great in bed'” or “‘you know, I’m rich; you should marry me.'”

To focus just on the Kotler marcom categories and to give it my own reverse spin, the metaphor goes something like this: 

You’re at a party with a bunch of friends and see a handsome guy…the man of your dreams. One of your friends goes up to him and, pointing at you, says, “You know, she’s rich…you should marry her!” That’s Advertising.

You’re at a party and see your handsome, dreamy guy. You get up and straighten your skirt, you walk up to him and buy him a drink. You take his arm, laugh (not too loudly) at his attempt at a joke, offer to pay for the cab ride home and then say, “By the way, you know I’m rich…we should get married.” That’s Public Relations.

You see your handsome guy at a party. You get his telephone number. The next day you call him and say, “You know I’m rich, we should get married.” That’s Personal Selling (specifically, Telemarketing).

You see the man of your dreams at a party. You walk up with your lawyer by your side (if you’re that rich, it’s a good chance it’s Gloria Allred), you hand him a pre-nup guaranteeing him $5 million in a separate bank account – no strings attached – upon return from the honeymoon and say, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m rich and I really think we should get married.” That’s Sales Promotion.

Of course the typical punch-line is the following: You’re at a party and see your Mr. Right. He walks up to you and says, “I understand you’re rich…will you marry me?” That’s Brand Recognition.

Oddly enough, I’ve found this metaphor to be highly circulated in posts from people in developing countries, although you certainly see it everywhere. Perhaps such an oversimplification and narrow definition of marketing may help to explain why Western marketing technology and marcom talent is especially in demand for growing businesses in developing countries.

They haven’t quite “got it” yet…but, you can bet it won’t be long before they will.