Sitting in what has quickly become my favourite class, I was listening to the Professor explain the pre-Socratic sophists’ roles in ancient Greece: in contrast to the philosophers, who discussed and debated truths that tended to be irrelevant to the Greeks’ daily lives, the sophists discussed notions that were relevant to the Greeks’ lives, but rarely dabbled in the truth.
A point he made about the sophists teaching wannabe-influentials how to effectively get their ideas across (regardless of the value of the position/innovation) struck me as eerily familiar. See, the way the sophists trained the Greeks to make their ideas salient is exactly what old-school ad agencies did for companies.
Our minds seem to be designed to be attracted to things that spread — Seth definitely got that part right, and articulated it better than anyone else I’ve heard yet. The sophists capitalized on that through rhetorical training; agencies discovered effective ways to exploit existing media.
The sophists’ problem came when Socrates came along and tried to push their “horizon of intelligibility” (in other words, when he made them aware of what they didn’t know). And, even though they killed Socrates, Plato and Aristotle made sure his spirit and mission lived on.
Like philosophy, I think marketing can be separated into a “pre-Socratic” period… except instead of Socrates, we’ve seen Seth Godin. He pushed the agencies’ horizons of intelligibility. And, luckily, he isn’t being executed for it.
But what’s next? Permission marketing seems to be just an attitude to an end. It doesn’t offer a method to make ideas salient/catchy. Leadership isn’t it, either — again, it’s an attitude. While leaders may be a subsection of the larger concept, an idea can take hold without a leader. The reverse, however, isn’t true.
Ancient Greece saw Plato come and examine and explore the process by which one develops wisdom, developing a method to pursue and propagate practical, salient truths. Who is the modern Plato to Seth’s Socrates?
Pardon the nepotism here, but I think my father, Andy Nulman, is a pretty decent candidate.
For the past couple of years, my dad has been exploring the element of surprise. And it seems as though surprise is the natural extension of the notion of the Ideavirus: the easiest way to make something catchy and remarkable is to make something that people react to excitedly.
Like Plato’s process to cultivate wisdom (see: the cave allegory), the basis of all practical truths, my dad’s process to cultivate surprise may push the post-Seth period of marketing to a new level of understanding.
Note: I still haven’t read my father’s book (see comments for why), and I try to keep enough distance between his work and mine. I think this is one of the first times I’m publicly praising his work in general, and not a lone piece of it. I (think I) would still be saying this if a complete stranger filled the role of “champion of surprise”.