Clay Shirky on Messiness

The following is from a 2008 interview of Clay Shirky that I just loved. So many good bits in it. In putting together my principles/lenses, I realized that this interview led to a belief that gets me in trouble with advertising types: that brands can loosen up a lot in the digital world. Here’s the text from that segment.

Assume that in the interactive environment, there are qualities to interaction, rather than “quality” full stop.

The advertising industry in particular has said that there is one kind of quality, and that is production values. And so everything has to look perfect, and we have to spend a bunch of money, and we need to have a special photoshoot where we go to Corfu and spend two days taking these photos, etc.

Over and over again, what we see in interactive environments is that if something looks too good, people won’t touch it. And you can do this in your own kitchen: if you go and spend half a day arranging every single thing, laying everything out just so, like it’s ready for a magazine shoot, and then you send someone into your kitchen, they will not pick up a knife. They will not help you cook. They will not touch anything, because the perfection of the kitchen says, “You don’t belong here.” On the other hand, if your kitchen looks like my kitchen on average, where the recently washed dishes have not yet been put away, and there’s some stuff around, a guest will come in and feel right at home opening up the refrigerator and helping you prep.

The messiness, the openness, the human characteristic tells people it’s okay. The marketing business has been so focused on this idea that we only have one shot to hand you a glossy photograph or a 15-second ad that we’re going to do everything we can to clean it up, right to the edges. But something that’s been cleaned up right to the edges has no space for me. And having things that are rough enough to say, “You know what we actually haven’t thought of all of this, you can come in to if you wanted” that kind of invitation isn’t something that the marketing industry is good at yet.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Well put.

    I’ve tried to explain this to teams and CDs for the past couple of years but many just can’t or don’t want to hear it. High production values is half of what they do. It’s a shock to them when you want their ideas but not their executions.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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