August 03, 2016

Further Thoughts About Kev

Last week I did something unusual. For the first time in my recollection, I posted on this site on a Saturday morning.

What motivated me do so was reading the now infamous interview with Kevin Roberts on the Business Insider site.

Being outraged by his stupidity, I started to write immediately. I intended to post it, as usual, on Monday morning.

But something told me that this was going to explode in a hurry and that if I wanted to say something original I had to do it immediately. So I posted then and there.

As regular readers know, over the years I have been particularly harsh with Roberts. I was annoyed by him before it was cool.

But something is bothering me now and I can't get over it.

When it comes to free speech, I'm kind of an absolutist. I think it is a healthy thing for people to be able to express their opinions - no matter how ignorant or offensive - without fear.

As a self-styled contrarian, I have often been out on a limb and been ridiculed for it. That's fine. If you're gonna shoot your mouth off you have to be prepared to face the consequences. But it's easy for me, I can't be fired from my blog.

The fact that Kevin was put on "administrative leave" or whatever the hell they call firing these days, bothers me. It bothers me that governments cannot punish us for what we say, but companies and clients can. (Update: Roberts resigned this morning)

I fully understand that business big shots can do substantial damage to their companies by saying dumb things. And I also understand that Publicis has a responsibility to protect its employees and shareholders from the harm that can be done by this kind of ignorant bombast.

But I wish there was a way to accomplish that without creating an environment in which people in our business are going to think twice before they express an unpopular opinion. No matter how stupid it may be.

As Rory Sutherland said
"People in advertising say stupid things all the time. If you are a creative person, it's part of the job description. You see how far you can push the line, rather as in stand-up comedy. That's what ideas are for - in evolutionary terms they are experimental actions. I always argue that the value of an advertising agency is that it fosters a culture where you can make stupid suggestions and still get promoted: many great ideas start with a kind of daft, Pythonesque suggestion, which is then beaten into more sensible shape - the kind of stupid suggestions you couldn't make in a government department, or a client company. I am thus slightly wary when people are fearful of speaking freely."
I don't know what the answer is. How do you discourage stupidity without restricting the right to be stupid?

No comments: