Nudge off, Rishi

As a School, we fundamentally believe that our students’ best ideas solve problems for real people in simple and unexpected ways. It’s why we love welcoming Steve Harrison every year, where he shares his mantra; problem / solution / relevant abruption. Most ads fail to solve real problems for real people, which is a criminal waste of money.  

But nothing is as bad as the money wasted by our politicians and their mandarins. I could write pages and pages theorising why they are so useless, but that’s not going to help us. 

A few years ago, when David Cameron was busy screwing things up, he was spotted holding a copy of a book called Nudge, which is one of the seminal books on Behavioural Science. I’ve written a few business books in my time, and I’m told that most people who buy business books don’t actually read them. I very much doubt Cameron read Nudge. If he did, he didn’t understand it.

When was the last time you saw the government execute a campaign that successfully changed behaviour as intended? I reckon it was probably 2007, when smoking was banned in almost all public places. This simple idea led to a huge reduction in coronary hospital visits, and a 93% reduction in the pollution levels of bars. People would rather give up smoking (grudgingly) than stand outside in the cold and wet British climate.

That was fifteen years ago.

Can you imagine any advertising agency going fifteen years without a game changing idea? They wouldn’t be trusted, would they? This is one of the many reasons why we no longer trust the people in charge, and why they should nudge off.  

The book Nudge contains case studies and ideas that were designed to encourage citizens to make better decisions in their lives. For example, there is a chapter detailing how to encourage opt-in and take-up of private pensions. There are some examples of some very simple nudges, such as the design of ATM machines, in which cash is only dispensed when you take your bank card out, preventing thousands of lost cards from absent-minded people. The book starts with the story of why the men’s urinals at Schiphol airport each have a fly etched into them.

A small flock of sandal-wearing protestors blocked motorways and main roads recently, with the intention of highlighting the poor insulation of UK homes and lambasting the government into doing something about it. I decided to do what creative people do when faced with a brief; I went to the pub to bounce ideas with a few friends. We took a mobile phone with us, so that we could do some research.

It didn’t take long to discover that the UK raises about £10 billion in tax each year through stamp duty, collected from the sale of about 650,000 homes. That’s about £15k in stamp duty per house sold, which is more than enough to cover the cost of insulation, triple glazing and solar panels.

Instead of the seller paying stamp duty, we propose that the money is lent to the buyer to spend on energy improvements, which would reduce household energy costs by at least half. The money spent on these energy efficiency improvements would be repaid to the treasury, by the buyer, over a few years, funded through the money saved on fuel costs. This means that it doesn’t end up costing the treasury anything.

To incentivise things further, if work is booked between exchange and completion, the treasury could pay the estate agent’s sales commission, potentially saving the buyer and seller a few quid.

If this is a halfway decent idea, then why didn’t our politicians and mandarins come up with it? After all, there’s plenty of opportunity for their friends to earn their customary backhanders and bonuses.

Raymond Chandler once wrote that chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency. Creative departments are full of smart and imaginative people, who perfectly understand problem / solution / relevant abruption

Can you imagine how many great ideas might be discovered if the government set a few briefs at D&AD New Blood? Of course, to do so would be to admit that creativity has value and this government has done everything to signal the opposite.

It is very likely that the government will scrap supporting the arts in schools at the Budget on Wednesday.  They’ve been chipping away for a while, devaluing creativity more and more, year after year. Classrooms that encourage self-expression and imagination are disappearing at an alarming rate. You can tell the Chancellor what you think by signing this petition.

Our school needs a supply of talent who had their creative fires lit in primary and secondary schools, by teachers who knew how to fan those flames. I look for people with a bit of a  creative swagger, who have a sense of imagination.  

Our shortsighted and pitiful government must be blind if they haven’t read reports on the impact of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning on the future of employment. Put simply, creativity and self-expression are THE skills MOST worth investing in.

It makes you think, doesn’t it. I wonder why this authoritarian government doesn’t want us to develop powers of self-expression and imagination?  

Nudge off, Rishi.   


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