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Persuasion vs Education

In this powerful TED Talk by Benjamin Zander, the music director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra neatly illustrates the fact that the most powerful way to change entrenched opinions and behaviours is often more like education than persuasion.

And as with all great teachers, in Zanders case, this is coupled with large amounts of charisma and infectious enthusiasm.

As TED puts it: “Benjamin Zander is known around the world as both a guest conductor and a speaker on leadership — and he’s been known to do both in a single performance. He uses music to help people open their minds and create joyful harmonies that bring out the best in themselves and their colleagues.

His provocative ideas about leadership are rooted in a partnership with Rosamund Stone Zander, with whom he co-wrote “The Art of Possibility.”

Or as Zander says himself: “The best review I ever got was not from a music critic, but from my father. He was 94 years old at the time and completely blind. He attended a Master Class I gave in London and sat there in his wheelchair for about three hours. When it was over, I went to speak with him. He lifted up his finger in his characteristic way and said, “I see that you are actually a member of the healing profession.” It seemed to me the highest accolade.

But there’s much more to be enjoyed at:


Experiencing Evil

When you experience something that seems to defy classification, you tend to experience it in a more vivid, more visceral fashion.  The more you struggle to find a suitable narrative to explain it, the more deeply involved you become.

What’s more, whatever you experience in this manner, tends to touch you and stay with you in a way that other, more intellectually mediated, experiences do not.

Recently I saw Nigel Rolfe do a performance piece called European Dream at the Green on Red Gallery, in Dublin.

Imagine this…

You walk into a darkened gallery, where people are milling around in the gloom, you immediately begin to feel slightly uncomfortable.

From loudspeakers, somewhere in the back of the space, you can hear distorted military music. Every so often you hear the sound of a hand slapping flesh.

After a few minutes you start to get your bearings. You begin to see that there are projections on three of the walls.

The wall in front of you features an image of what looks like a prison cell… except it is too large to be a cell., and there are strange bluish stains on the walls. Perhaps this is some kind of interrogation room… or worse, some kind of torture chamber… the image is somehow reminiscent of images of Abu Gharaib.

Suddenly you hear that slapping sound again, and you turn to see that, to the left of the wall featuring the large prison cell, is the image of a huge pair of hands. Blue powder is sifted from one hand to the other, until every so often the top hand slams down on the lower one, creating a gaseous explosion of blue pigment.

In contrast, on the wall to the right, is the image of another hand covered in gold leaf, this hand does nothing more than open and close majestically. In front of the central projection is a small desk, chair and desk lamp… perhaps an interrogation is going to take place? At this point the artist enters. He is a tall, imposing figure. His head is shaven and he wears a white shirt and black trousers. He sits at the desk and pulling up a shirt sleeve, begins to lift slivers of gold leaf and apply them carefully onto his hand. After ten minutes the hand is completely covered. This is the image projected on the left. He then carefully empties a bowl of blue pigment onto the table. Leaning forward on the table he looks around him at the audience in the darkness. Suddenly he plunges his face into the pigment…and rolls his head around on the desk.

When he eventually raises his face, he pulls himself erect, and with his knuckles still on the desktop, once again he looks at the audience, one by one with a look of sheer malevolence.

The effect is staggering, without quite knowing why, you feel that you are staring evil right in the face.

Your mind is working overtime, as you try and figure out what is happening at which point, Nigel Rolfe steps forward into the crowd, and urgently explains that the room behind him is one in which, in less than 24 hours, on November 3, 1943 over 18,400 Jews were killed with Cyanide gas.

Choking back the tears, which begin to run through the blue pigment on his face, he explains how gold was extracted from the bodies, and how the strange blue marks on the walls of the chamber were from the use of Prussic acid, otherwise known as Zyclon B or cyanide… in some kind of gruesome historical irony, this is the same ingredient used in the pigment that artists  call “Prussian Blue”…

It is clear that the performance has taken its toll on Nigel Rolfe, in tears he leaves the stage. The audience applaud, but are all clearly in a state of shock.

It is one thing to know something intellectually. It is quite another to feel it emotionally.


In we, we trust.

Over the last couple of years Ireland has undergone some pretty massive social changes.

Our advertising agency, Chemistry conducts a large scale piece of research every fortnight, this not only this provide us with real time intelligence about what people are thinking, and how they are feeling, but perhaps more importantly, it allows us to track how this has changed over time.

One of the most significant findings in this research has been the evaporation of trust, by all kinds of people – in all kinds of authority.

We’ve been tracking the decline of trust since 2001 and now realise that we’re witnessing nothing short of a massive social change.

The Irish Times picked up on this story with the headline “Most people no longer trust church, Government or banks.”

The Catholic Church smartly responded by quoting the part of our research that the Times didn’t put in their headline… ‘We are informed that 59 per cent of people distrust the media. This is a higher figure of distrust than applies to the church, yet it doesn’t make the headline. Unlike the analysis offered by the article concerning the church, there are no reasons given to explain this tripling of distrust in the media since 2001.’

But apart from erstwhile trusted institutions arguing over which of them is losing less trust, the real question is… if not traditional authority figures, who are we turning to, to place our trust in?

The simple fact is that, we are now witnessing the largest transfer of trust in the Western World, from hierarchical structures to peer groups since the Reformation.

That revolution was also fuelled by a simple advance in media – the publication in 1549 of the The Book of Common Prayer.

Because this meant that anyone, anywhere, could access the higher power, directly and without having to go through one, fixed point intermediary in the form of a priest or member of the Church hierarchy.

The current revolution is being fuelled by social media. Our Book of Common Prayer is, in fact, Facebook. Social media has enabled and empowered consumers to ask each other what they should think and do, rather than have to rely on the traditional authorities.

And it’s not just opinions that are being shared socially. Peer to peer file sharing has extended to complex financial transactions like peer to peer betting and peer to peer banking.

And this also has major implications for those other esteemed repositories of trust…. Brands.

In a recent piece of research by Forrester it was pointed out that brands have been asking ‘What will the new digital media do FOR us?’ Whereas the real question should have been ‘What will the new digital media do TO us?’

And much as we all love the cavaliers, and their defence of the old hierarchical structures, we know who wins in the end…

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