Assuming Stupidity

Over a lifetime, I have a spectacular record of failure when assuming stupidity in others. Almost always, the flaw in my reasoning is my own misunderstanding of what the “others” are trying to do and how they are trying to do it.

I doubt I am alone.

Every political writer with access to the Internet has an opinion on President Donald Trump and most appear to have used that access to express it.

Yet I have this nagging feeling they are missing something and, if I limit my reading to what they tell me, so will I.

The Harvard Business Review is not the first place political strategists go to find something insightful, but nor should it be the last. Winning an election is like selling a product and the Harvard Business Review is a pretty good place to learn about that.

Roger L. Martin is a Professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Earlier this month he published How the Attacks on Trump Reinforce His Strategy.

Simply stated, Martin’s thesis is that Trump could not win in the category of politician so he had to create a new one – preferably one he could dominate.

According to Professor Martin, “To establish the legitimacy of the category, he made a consistent and devilishly tautological argument: In the category of traditional presidential candidates, the politicians are all politically correct. When they get in power, they fail you. Hence you don’t want a leader in that category — you want one in a new category called politically incorrect presidential candidates. I have been a huge success in business by being politically incorrect. Therefore: political correctness = failure, and political incorrectness = success.”

If that was to be the winning strategy – you never know until the results are in – it is difficult to imagine a more suitable adversary than Hillary Clinton. She might have been able to move toward Bernie Sanders – and she did – but she was trapped like a fossil in amber in the category “politician.”

But now what? In theory, the election is over though, in practice, elections no longer end. Among commentators, there is far more concern about the impact of a particular action on poll numbers than on policy.

To suggest that the coastal ribbons of blue are apoplectic at more or less everything the Trump administration has done (especially the travel ban) is to administer heavy sedation to the concept of apoplexy. Yet their outrage focuses on his being un-presidential.

In their efforts to feel good about themselves (it’s not who we are) the coastal apoplectics might actually be helping Trump to achieve his goals.

Again, according to Martin, “His detractors keep on asking how long Trump can keep on defying gravity. They are asking the wrong question. They should be asking how their form of criticism is strengthening Trump.”

Professor Martin makes a point about strategy that I might have made about sales but the difference is irrelevant as the observation is correct.

“…understand and empathize with your customers. When they are doing something that you think is crazy, don’t blame them. They aren’t a ‘basket of deplorables.’ They are your customers. Don’t explain why they are making a terrible choice when they choose your competitor’s product. Understand why they are buying it and give them a compelling reason to buy yours instead.”

There are few groups more deeply embedded in the category “politician” than political consultants. It is what they know and more importantly what they sell. But, when competing with President Trump, they are not competing inside the category “politician,” they are competing with something different and they appear to have no answer to the new rules – if indeed they realize they are in a different arena.

“She [Secretary Clinton] sold customers what she desired them to want: a product that was compelling to her and her management team.” Secretary Clinton might have left the stage, but those who share her views appear to be following her path.

Will it have the same result?

“He [President Trump] is still using the same strategy today, and it continues to work. If his opponents want to outmaneuver him, they will have to try a different strategy. Theirs is not working.”

It might be time for the President’s opponents to stop assuming stupidity.

 

 

 

19 Responses to “Assuming Stupidity”

Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:46 am said:

and in turn to Professor Martin

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SellersMcKee, February 02, 2017 at 9:39 am said:

Insightful as usual, Haven.

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:47 am said:

I am glad I posted this yesterday because various news feeds today seem filled with the same idea. Though not because of me.

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Rob, February 02, 2017 at 10:09 am said:

I agree with Martin, although I think he is somewhat irrelevant.

When he says “His detractors keep on asking how long Trump can keep on defying gravity. They are asking the wrong question. They should be asking how their form of criticism is strengthening Trump.” I think he is asking the wrong question.

In our polarized political universe – and Trump’s clear purpose is to make it more and more polarized – 35%-45% are going to support one side or the other no matter what they possibly do. Trump may start a gratuitous, unnecessary war with Iran or create a dynamic in which the Australians, of all people, despise us and 35%-45% of America will cheer him on.

It is absurd to think that any form of criticism is going to change the mind of any in Trump’s base. The only thing that will significantly change minds is clear success or failure. If he presides over a period of 3%-4% GDP growth, reduces unemployment, significantly further weakens the Iranian nuclear threat without war, improves our infrastructure, leads a rational worldwide populist movement, etc. he will change minds on the margin and win re-election. If alienates our closest allies, presides over a recession, starts wars and makes a ton of money for himself and his kids at our expense; he will be impeached.

No Harvard branding exercise is going to change this dynamic.

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C. Griffin, February 02, 2017 at 10:59 pm said:

Actually, Rob, in the best of all possible worlds, he will self-immolate.
I would like to think actually, but I guess it may have to be more figurative. We would like to see his little ugly, calimari-esque gelatinous body in a Savonarolla–type flame. But it will have to be in media time, I guess.

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:50 am said:

mind changing in political discussions does not happen often

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Stan Deland, February 02, 2017 at 10:58 am said:

Totally agree. It’s not Harvard Business Review but got me thinking this way…that best marketer won
http://www.webinknow.com/video-of-my-inbound-2016-talk-how-inbound-marketing-and-sales-decided-the-2016-us-election

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:54 am said:

Stan, that looks like a great video. I have watched a moment or two and will watch the rest. Perhaps it will answer my question of how these two parties have any brand value at all.

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Greg Van Schaack, February 02, 2017 at 11:42 am said:

Mohammad Ali had a similar strategy. I believe it was called “rope-a-dope”!!

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:55 am said:

he definitely has the Beltway insiders flummoxed

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C. Griffin, February 02, 2017 at 5:28 pm said:

Exceptionally well spoken Haven.
I also agree with Rob

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:56 am said:

again, much thanks to Prof Martin. His thoughts are appearing elsewhere too

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Brandy, February 02, 2017 at 8:05 pm said:

Para – “understanding and empathize …. ” is knowing the Market’s desires and satisfying it v assuming desires and selling discarded solutions. Better v worse we’re in for a great ride of different solutions.

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:58 am said:

I am looking forward to watching Stan’s video

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“As We Go Marching On”* – James G. Blaine, February 03, 2017 at 8:15 am said:

[…] Not smart. The second objection is based on stupidity. Trump’s opponents continue to pursue a losing […]

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Haven Pell, February 03, 2017 at 9:57 am said:

thanks for the links in your blog, Jamie.

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donna entwistle, February 07, 2017 at 6:18 pm said:

i straddle several different “realities” such as the ones that Jared Kushner was astounded to discover (NY magazine some weeks back) like Columbus on an 0cean voyage and the only swamp worse than DC is the academy. This entry on Bannon a man wholly familiar to me is most instructive
https://spectator.org/steve-bannon-is-not-the-imaginary-hobgoblin-portrayed-by-the-media-elite/?utm_source=American+Spectator+Emails&utm_campaign=a2d8b8b382-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_07&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_797a38d487-a2d8b8b382-104493069
need to get out more

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Haven Pell, February 09, 2017 at 4:02 pm said:

Thank you for the article on Bannon. As I said right at the top, “Over a lifetime, I have a spectacular record of failure when assuming stupidity in others. Almost always, the flaw in my reasoning is my own misunderstanding of what the “others” are trying to do and how they are trying to do it.”

I have not been sure what to make of Bannon but I am quite sure he is not stupid.

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