New formats and patterns

I’ve just finished a book, called Where’d You Go, Bernadette? It’s by Maria Semple, who used to write comedy for TV shows like SNL and Arrested Development. Now she’s writing novels.

Just as its creator crossed boundaries, so does the book. It’s an epistolary novel, a traditional form where the story is told through letters. Only it being two thousand and something, those letters take the form of emails, diary entries, formal letters and magazine articles.

At the back of the book, there’s a section that begins with this page.


In this section are a notes for discussion, a short interview with the writer, and suggestions for further reading.

I know this is pretty commonplace now. But it struck me: the book assimilates a vernacular style and written forms that most readers will be familiar with using themselves. It seems very appropriate therefore that the publisher, too, has assimilated new patterns of attention that have organically grown up around books.

Acknowledging reading groups is an interesting publishing innovation. It doesn’t necessarily add much to what a buyer is prepared to pay, I imagine. In fact, it only adds further value once the reader has finished the book.

But it accepts the reality that books can have a life for the reader beyond that moment. We lend and borrow them. They sit on shelves as mementoes of our cultural and imaginative life.

And, we join reading groups. As elsewhere, the life of a thing we consume is changing. It is extended. It is experienced in new formats. And that new experience which the thing inspired, is being incorporated into the thing itself.

It reminded me of something I haven’t seen much of yet, but have thought about trying out recently. Not with books, but with box sets.

We’re very used to DVD commentary incorporated into the experience, of course. But that’s less a new pattern of attention and more a technology-enabled value add. Supposedly.

And I keep thinking that some box sets would lend themselves brilliantly to the reading group format. The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking BadSix Feet Under. Shows like this have already inspired blogs and the community that grows up around them. Even, in the case of The Wire, a book inspired by the blog.

Also, are there enough shows that warrant getting a group together? How it would work? Would you do one season at a time? But then, one person’s selection of material would lead to half a year of your life being taken over. It would take you three years just to get the five I’ve mentioned.

So, perhaps a small band of viewers meeting physically isn’t needed.

But then, maybe it is.

Maybe it would be amazing to really, properly watch them, just as a reading group asks you to really, properly read novels.

Maybe it’s already happening.

Everyone I know would love to watch at least one again. Just to see if they really are as rich as the novels that sometimes inspire them.

What do you think? Have you done it? How would it work?

Progressive thinking

Morris Ernst was an American lawyer.

In 1933, he made it possible for James Joyce’s Ulysses to be legally published in the US for the first time.

By then, Ulysses was more than ten years old. Joyce had taken eight years just to write it. It was first published in book form by Shakespeare and Co, a book shop in Paris, but it had already been serialised in literary magazines as it was being written.

Those magazines had been withdrawn from circulation – the Ulysses excerpts were deemed obscene. The book itself was sold under the radar and distributed through the post. That too was banned.

The obscenity laws in America had been aggressively enforced for decades. This was down to the Comstock Act, a peevish piece of legislation named after a crusading puritan who ran the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Imagine Mary Whitehouse, but with actual power.

The Act outlawed anything “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting”.

That’s a definition that is both comprehensive and vague – no mean feat. Needless to say, Ulysses, with its swear words and unprecedented portrayal of sex, fell easily within its sights.

But Ernst had a plan.

The avant-garde and the modernists loved Ulysess and a brave publisher called Random House wanted to print  it.

Progressive opinion was on his side.

Ernst reckoned that if he could re-frame the debate he might have a chance.

He reckoned that if Ulysses was judged solely on its literary value, rather than whether it was obscene, he could change people’s minds.

It wouldn’t be easy.

The concept of ‘literary context’ didn’t exist back then. Judges weren’t obliged to consider any part of books on trial that weren’t offensive. They routinely barred expert literary witnesses from trials, so the literati Ernst had lined up for the trial might not even be called.

Ernst did the usual procedural stuff. He delayed and deferred the court date until the right judge – a literary liberal – got assigned to the case.

He waived his right to a jury. Which meant he was only dealing with one set of prejudices, not thirteen.

But the masterstrokes came before the trial.

Ernst needed the government to seize a copy in order to prosecute. That gave him an opportunity to engineer the situation to his advantage.

If he tried to sell the book, the book would be prosecuted under the Comstock Act. But if he imported it, it would be prosecuted under the Traffic Act instead.

The Traffic Act didn’t ban what was “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting”. It only banned what was “obscene”.

So that meant one subjective adjective, not six. Which would make winning the argument a lot easier.

So Ernst boarded the ferry to Detroit himself and demanded to be searched.

They found the book.

But most brilliant of all was how Ernst engineered what book they found.

The government only required one book to find grounds for prosecution.

So Ernst only needed one copy.

That meant Random House saved an awful lot of money. (Incredibly, the US routinely burned books back then.)

But what it really meant was this.

He could control the evidence that made it into the courtroom.

The book wasn’t just the target of the prosecution.

It was Exhibit A of the trial.

Forget ‘literary context’. If Ernst could engineer the evidence, he could define the very basis of the trial.

Instead of calling expert literary witnesses, the literary opinions could already be in the book.

Ernst secured a copy of the latest edition. He cut out glowing reviews from the newspapers, and pasted them inside the book’s front cover.

That was what the Detroit border officials found. That was the evidence.

Critical opinion was smuggled into the courtroom.

Ernst had thought of everything.

The right judge, no jury, favourable terms of prosecution. They all contributed.

But, critically, he’d managed to engineer the content of the trial before it began.

And he won.

Sometimes winning an argument isn’t purely about what you say.

It’s about stacking the odds in your favour.






The Lives Of Others

I came across an incredible, and rather sad, quote from Charles Darwin today.

Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music … My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact, but why this alone should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

That image, of Darwin recalling an emotion he once delighted in but now cannot will himself to feel, is a painful one. He understands the corrosive implications of the situation, too, which makes it even sadder. The great pursuit of his life – outlining the theory of evolution and creating the most profound scientific legacy of the last 200 years, is denigrated as ‘grinding general laws out of large collections of fact.’

If Darwin cruelly depreciates his own achievement, he at least celebrates an appreciation of other, more artistic pleasures – ‘the higher tastes’, as he calls them. He connects a taste for music, literature and art to the cultivation of a strong intellect, moral character and emotional intelligence.

That’s pretty profound. It’s a reminder that, as strategists, the ‘emotional part of our nature’ is as important as our willingness to immerse ourselves in data. We should avoid merely grinding general laws. If Darwin can recognise the limitations of that approach, who are we to argue?

The quote comes from a book I’m reading called Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher, first published in the 1970s.  The book’s subtitle is, Economics As If People Mattered. I recommend it.


The quote arrives when Schumacher is discussing the role of education. He asserts that it’s in people’s nature to think in opposites. He talks about the concept of divergent and convergent thinking and makes the case that life consists of problems which cannot be solved by logical reasoning.

Life is kept going by divergent problems which have to be ‘lived’ and are only solved in death. Convergent problems on the other hand are man’s most useful invention; they do not, as such, exist in reality, but are created by a process of abstraction. When they have been solved, the solution can be written down and passed on to others, who can apply it without needing to reporoduce the mental effort necessary to find it. If this were the case with human relations – in family, life, economics, politics, education, and so forth – well, I am at a loss how to finish the sentence. There would be no more human relations but only mechanical reaction; life would be a living death. Divergent problems force man to strain himself to a level above himself; they demand, and thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.

The physical sciences and mathematics are concerned exclusively with convergent problems. That is why they can progress cumulatively, and each new generation can begin just where their forbears left off. The price, however, is a heavy one. Dealing exclusively with convergent problems does not lead into life but away from it.

So, life attains meaning with problems that can only be solved at a higher, emotional level. Cultivating tastes for stimuli that speak to the higher, emotional aspects of ourselves makes us better at understanding and living life.

These higher forces and tastes lead us into life. They connect us to more experiences and the perspectives of more people. They make us more sympathetic to the lives of others.

In his collection of essays, The Form Of Things, A. C. Grayling says that “we often fail in our sympathies across barriers of inexperience, as when, for example, one who has never suffered bereavement sees less into another’s grief than one who has.”

He then asks, “by what means can [our sympathies] be extended?”

His answer underlines the point made by Darwin and Schumacher.

By encouraging exposure to narrative art – the novel, film, drama – the sympathies can be educated, refined, enlarged. To gain access to another’s perspective on life demands a certain kind of informed and interpretative sympathy. Most people can learn something about the needs and interests of others from their own experiences and from their own observation of people around them; but if this were the only resource, the scope of an individual’s sympathies would be rather limited. Exposure to the narrative arts overcomes that limitation: they greatly widen one’s perceptions of human experience, and enable one – vicariously, or as a fly-on-the-wall witness – to see into lives, conditions and experiences which one might never encounter in practice. This enlarging of the sympathies is a basis for richer moral experience and a more refined capacity for moral response.

Only if one has a rich array of possible narratives and goals to choose from can those choices and actions be truly informed and maximally free. Once again, exposure to stories – which in part represent possible lives – is a vital ingredient in the ethical construction of one’s personal future history.

I am not a philosopher. Nor am I a scientist or an economist. I’m not quite sure exactly what I am, to be honest. But I am paid to understand and be interested in other people. I’ve also long held a belief that fiction is a valuable tool in helping me be better at my job.

Fiction provides an insight into the lives of others. It offers different perspectives, mapping out reference points for the behaviour of real people. It explores motivations, relationships, adversity and emotions. You don’t find those in big data.

When I hear people in agencies say, I don’t really read books, I despair a little.

We need more fiction in agencies.

Agency book clubs shouldn’t just include the latest industry set text. They should include novels. You can learn a lot about how social mores govern individual behaviour from Middlemarch.

Box sets don’t only represent changing TV consumption. They represent a chance to discuss the difference between what people say and how they behave.

I think planners shouldn’t only meet at conferences. I think they should go to the theatre together.

Here’s to the lives of others, and the power of fiction to bring them to life.

GapJumpers interview




GapJumpers asked me to take part in an interview series they’ve been running. They want to make good careers for people, and find good people who  turn what they do into careers. Having been winning interviews with some very smart and influential industry types recently, they for some reason asked me to do an interview as well. These are pertinent questions for the commercial creative industries, to do with skills and experience of its people and the priorities of its leaders.

The interview is published on Medium here. Would be interested in others’ own answers too.

Design inspiration

Recently I went through a great pitch experience.

The intensity and focus of the previous few days were over. All the thinking and energy and ideas had been compacted down into the form of a presentation. Everything burst out into the room during an adrenaline rush that lasted less than 45 minutes.

It was actually rather exciting.

Afterwards we tried to articulate how it had felt, in that room. Since we did that in the pub, however, moments of clarity were rare. Certainly, they were short-lived.

Nevertheless, memories of the pitch ricocheted around. For once they sounded less like war stories and a little more like insights that might actually have some value.

We talked about the four hour conversation on the Sunday that none of us dare leave for fear of breaking the spell, so close were we to ‘enlightenment’ (don’t open the curtains! briefly became our newest refrain).

We talked about the bold and brazen idea that came from that conversation – two words that started echoing around the agency immediately. They were quoted back to me by Monday morning so I  knew we on to something.

We talked too about the leanness of the deck and its design, and of our argument. Everything was an exercise in keeping exposition to a minimum.

Whatever the outcome of the pitch, our output – and our experience in getting to it – had had a purity about it that epitomised…well, something, even if I wasn’t immediately sure what. A way to bond as a team? A new way of working? Tangibly, viscerally exciting work? Whatever it was, I’d like to have bottled it so everyone else in the agency could have experienced it.

As the boss said, he and I both still pub-bound: “Everyone thinks they know what good looks like. Very few people know how it feels.”

As someone who now thinks they do, I have spent no small amount of time trying to explain it to others. The drive has been part obligation, part evangelical impulse. Obviously my descriptive powers fall short, so I find that I keep coming back to three reference points. They are all designers, each of whom we talked a little about during the pitch. I am not a designer, by any means, but the process and presentation of our work is always better if we keep design principles close at hand. Few things are more inspiring at that moment than a tough problem solved with aesthetic elegance.

So where these people who provided such design inspiration?

Thomas Heatherwick, Katherine Hamnett and Peter Saville.

Here’s why.

I once met the head of innovation at Heatherwick Studios, a exceptionally clever and very nice man called Stuart Wood. We were at a conference. Chancing my arm I asked him to come and speak at my then agency, MEC. Incredibly, he agreed. He talked about the bus, the cauldron, the bridge (no, not that one) and the pavilion. Many MECers told me it was the most inspiring thing they’d heard there. He left quite an impression. Expo2010-Heatherwick-4170-Thumbnail

He also left countless quotable insights into the way the studio worked. Including this:

We don’t start drawing until we’ve finished talking.

I thought about that line as we recalled our four hour conversation on the Sunday. It was Stuart’s dictum in practice, even though we’d done it back to front. We were two days out, the work was good, but it didn’t have a centre of gravity. We’d started drawing too quickly. (It happens.)

We had some unfinished talking to do. One person called it, another knew it, everyone else settled in. This wasn’t about process. There was no squirrelling away working on our own links in the chain – the strategist’s proposition, the creative’s big idea, team-mates divided by a common language. This was about one thought. It was collaborative thinking out loud…just some pen and paper…for hours…only one cup of tea in all that time…someone bruised their leg from sitting in the same position for so long…and then there it was. The air crackled.

Creativity thrives on contrasting views, but creating something together thrives on shared belief. Consensus takes time and discipline, especially when a hundred other things are calling for your attention.

But that day I learned there is no substitute. Find the people, the time and the space and get talking.

Katherine Hamnett is different. She makes T-shirts. She no doubt does other stuff  but it’s her T-shirts that were important to us. They feature bold statements. In fact, the T-shirts are bold statements.

katharine-hamnett-photo Simple is really hard. Short is hard, too. It’s one of the most important things we can learn, though. Saying more with less. Distilling meaning, not reducing it. Ideas don’t come hard boiled, you have to do that yourself. Our idea, by the end, was hard boiled. A lot of discussion and thinking had been compacted down into it. It stood for an awful lot but was contained within two words. It could have been printed on a T-shirt. In fact, it was. We may still have one somewhere…

Peter Saville, like his sleeve designs, is stylish and effortlessly enigmatic. Nothing is explained. Everything just is. Style is substance. Or rather (turn your head 90 degrees to the left), style is…


The first album I ever bought (on cassette) with my own money had a Saville design. So did the first vinyl LP. I’ve listened to Saville-designed records so much I’m struck by synaesthesia. The music is Saville’s design, and vice versa. So using Transmission by Joy Division in the presentation carried a certain expectation in my view. Fewer words, fewer charts, a leaner thrust to the argument.  It was an exercise in removing the unnecessary.  The idea presented itself. Not that we didn’t speak – we had to tell the story, but the idea, all two words of it, had to stand on its own. Like it would have to in the real world.

That leanness and aesthetic approach created some storytelling pressure. We had to know our stuff. The charts relied on the right segue expressed in the right way. The images had to be spot on. Everything did.

It was a pleasure to present. It was right, too, in the way that the covers to Closer or Technique are right. It was also effortless, despite, or perhaps because, of the effort that had gone into it. It must have seemed so obvious to the client. I remember wondering whether this is why everyone thinks advertising is so easy – because everyone works so damned hard to make everything so graspable within moments.

Three things I really enjoyed and found valuable. Three designers whose MO seem to capture precisely what if felt like.

The Heatherwick maxim that encourages conversation, discovery and consenus.

The Hamnett style that demands brevity.

The Saville philosophy that demands simplicity.

I hope this doesn’t read as self-congratulatory. It isn’t meant to be. It was simply an intoxicating and perhaps even enriching experience that I’ve tried to record in writing.

And really, apart from the experience, there isn’t much to congratulate ourselves about.

The client decided to choose another agency.

So we didn’t win.

But we gained an awful lot.

Pop goes the algorithm

The Pet Shop Boys have written an orchestral work about Alan Turing. It’s a perfectly Pet Shop Boys thing to do. If you don’t understand why then I recommend listening to this fantastic conversation with Neil Tennant from last year. If you do, I recommend you listen to it anyway.

I have long loved the Pet Shop Boys. When I was 14, at the very start of 1990, the moment we all stepped forward together into a decade that sounded like the future, I moved to a new area of the country and had to change schools.

Being 14, a regular question from my new classmates was, what’s your favourite music? Being 14, my answer was an instinctive but calculated curatorial spin on reality. I quickly learned a routine line that worked: New Order and the Pet Shop Boys.

New Order, who no-one had heard of because World In Motion and Italia 90 were still six months away, were miserable and not really proper pop stars. The blank looks their name registered told me I was on to something. They were cool. They were my vinyl and NME-reading teenage future.

The Pet Shop Boys, who everyone had heard of, were pop stars of a strange and interesting type, and also miserable. They were my cassette and Smash Hits-reading teenage past. I had no idea whether they were cool or not. I still don’t. I still love them, though. Or at least my idea of them.

Later, I read someone describe them as ‘The Smiths you could dance to.’ That makes a lot of sense. They would make songs with found titles like What Have I Done To Deserve This? (very Smiths), sing it with a disappeared sixties icon like Dusty Springfield (ditto), and proceed to have a No 1 hit in the process (OK, but two out of three’s not bad).

More fundamentally they were very subversive indeed. They smuggled edgeland inspiration into mainstream spaces and combined them in extraordinary ways until no-one could see the join.

West End Girls is as much TS Eliot as it is Grandmaster Flash and Hi-NRG.

It’s A Sin is a repressed catholic priest fomenting his shame till it explodes, while God, in the form of Chris Lowe, smites him with Fairlight thunderclaps and portentous synths. Its video was directed by Derek Jarman.

These songs both went to No 1, too.

One which didn’t was my favourite even so. It was called Left To My Own Devices and imagined the sound of “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat”. Of course, this is what all pop music should sound like.

I don’t know who called the Pet Shop Boys the ‘Greek chorus of the 80s’ but the description works for me. There they are, wryly commenting on the human damage wrought by that grasping, ugly decade. The AIDS epidemic (Domino Dancing), the financial Big Bang (Shopping), the lawless, economic horror of towns left to wither and die (Suburbia), the subjugation of happiness for money (Rent).

I love the Pet Shop Boys. Or at least my idea of them.

Why on earth am I telling you all this?

I’m telling you this so you have an idea of what goes on in my head when I listen to them, and perhaps therefore how I felt when I saw this.


Sorry, Spotify, I won’t. And I’m more than a little offended that you even think I would. Do you really classify the elegant art of the Pet Shop Boys with the sweaty ventriloquist’s goth-dummy that is Meatloaf? How could you?

How wrong could they get it, I thought? Surely some slip of the algorithm…

Well, apparently there are others.


What?! How is this even possible? ‘People who listen to the Pet Shop Boys are also listening to Foreigner’? Look at them. Look at them!

I started noticing this more and more. Spotify was surely playing a joke on me, toying with the uncertainty I had about the Pet Shop Boys’ cool rating by associating them with the worst acts of all time. To underline the insult, it even started taking into account that other pop obsession of my 14 year old self, New Order.

no supertramp

Of course. Nothing says ‘detached synth-pop with melodies the size of mountains ‘ like topographic fretsplorers and denim hairlords, Yes.

Still, somehow, there was more.


And, finally, what do you get if you cross Electric Ladyland with Introspective?

Well, I’d have thought more than ‘More Than A Feeling’ at least…

boston jh

Spotify can’t get everything right, I know.

I imagine all these other bands feature on 80s compilations alongside the Pet Shop Boys somewhere. I also don’t doubt that my own critic-driven view of the group doesn’t necessarily reflect the way others, perhaps the majority, see them. (I should also say that I’m a terrible snob.) After all, you don’t get to subvert the mainstream without the mainstream subverting you. Even this morning, announcing the Turing work, the news described them as an 80s band.

So I’m not questioning the algorithm. My point here isn’t that there’s a ghost in the Spotify machine.

It’s that there isn’t one.

There is no singular story to pop. Liking music isn’t just about taste. It is about nostalgia and emotion and stories and love and fear and hope and anything else you care to throw in to the kaleidoscope of feeling that goes to make any of us. It’s an endless landscape to which we all have our own individual map.

Our idea of music, and perhaps therefore anything we choose to consume, is more powerful than its substance.

Digital tools and services like Spotify are really  very clever, but we would miss the the human, curatorial touch if it became entirely absent. As digital services become more entwined with more intimate aspects of our lives, personalisation will have to stand for more than simply the next algorithmically served thing to consume.

We prefer the world editorialised. Being trapped in the uncanny valley of recommendation isn’t the same thing at all. Music streaming services can tag everything in their path but they will always struggle to define the meaning that listeners attach to the music. Perhaps we like knowing that someone cleverer and more applied than us — or just luckier and with more time — is in there somewhere, working, thinking about things.

Or perhaps we just sometimes need our idea of the world reflected back at us. Perhaps, now that the Pet Shop Boys are doing the Proms, more people will get a different idea of them, and maybe Spotify’s recommendations might come closer to reflecting my world, as well as everyone else’s.

Planners and detectives

In 1928, a sleuth writer called S.S.. Van Dine set down what he thought were the Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.

Rule #19, for example, is that the motive should always be personal.

Rule #11 is that the culprit must be a decidedly worthwhile person – one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.

Rule #14 is that the method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific.

I really like this list for a number of reasons. First, it reminds us that lists have been used as a device for editorial content since long before the internet made them blog catnip. Second, it’s pretty tangible. Most of the reasons generate that warm glow of recognition common to any insightful writing. As planners we’re often guilty of fashioning ‘principles’ that are pretty vacuous – this list reminds us that if checklist reflects actual creative work our audience knows, we’ll be a whole lot more convincing.

There was another reason I liked this list, though.

The parallel between planner and policeman is pretty old. Perhaps even hackneyed. But Van Dine’s list is an entire ‘how to’ of that idea. Once I’d got this in my head I couldn’t get rid of it.

Instead of ‘reader’, I saw client. Instead of ‘crime’ I saw ‘brief’. Instead of ‘culprit’ I saw ‘solution’.

And instead of ‘detective’ I saw ‘planner’.

See if you agree.

Rule #6: A detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

Translation – don’t rely on received opinion. Every brief is different.

Rule #12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

Translation – find the single biggest thing that will make the single biggest difference.

Rule #16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

Translation – focus on the issue; colour in the story only as much as the story needs

Rule 19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal…It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

Tranlsation – make it matter to the client

Rule #9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his co-deductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

Translation – the client is a partner, not an opponent to be defeated

Rule #15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should re-read the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

Translation – by the time you get to the solution, the client should already be with you

Really, though, this is all summed up by Rule #1.

The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery.

Translation – we add value when we use the same raw ingredients that have the client scratching their heads.

When we make sense of it in a way the client perhaps hasn’t been able to.

A sense that is elegant and yet inevitable.

Our point of difference is the perspective, clarity and direction we bring to a seemingly irresolvable problem.

As Alice Spawls puts it in the London Review of Books, the protagonists of detective novels “mix deduction with intuition and observation, making the impossible seem not only logical but obvious”.

There’s nothing magic to what planners do.

It’s just that the good ones just see things a certain way.


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