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Magic over metrics

Okay, here’s the thing. We live and work in a time where nearly everything gets measured. And that’s fine. Clicks and likes and shares. Number of units produced, number of takeoffs and landings, 800 billion served. It’s important that we measure things because it gives clients some understanding of what is working and gives us permission to keep doing what we do for them.

But do you know what’s more important than things you can measure? Things you can’t measure. Like art. Like love. Like calm. Like goodness. Like tension.

For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to lump all of those unmeasureables into one word: magic.

Arthur C. Clarke, the author of many science fiction classics, including 2001, once wrote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

What he meant was, when something is not understood it appears to be magic. Hand an iPad to a person from Massachusetts in 1692, and the only conclusion they will come to is that you are some kind of witch. (And they will want to burn you at the stake, so I recommend against using any time machine you may acquire in this way.)

The same is true of the magic within creativity. It’s not well understood by a lot of people. And some people don’t get it at all. Some clients. Some agency account people. Even some creative people. I’ve run into more than a few professionals in this business who believe that creativity can be broken down into some kind of algorithm or formula. They think they can figure out the recipe for creativity and recreate it over and over again like cupcakes or chicken cutlets.

Hint: creativity is new and different every time. As soon as you apply a formula, it’s not creative.

I’ve heard people say “there’s a metric for everything.” But the things we are able to measure easily are so basic and small, that a lot of the complex and big human emotions remain unquantified. For example, you can measure the time someone spends on a website, but that doesn’t mean you know how they’re feeling about what they are experiencing. They may feel an affinity for it. They may be uninspired by it. They may despise every word (as I’m sure some people are feeling about this post).

I will admit that maybe, when you get down on the quantum level of existence, these “metric for everything” people could be right (how many muon neutrinos are there in love?), but right now, metrics on vital human emotional conditions remain spotty and inaccurate.

Why do people rely on formulas and algorithms and metrics so much? Because it makes them comfortable. Most traditional business people love facts. They love data. They love numbers that they can use to draw a conclusion. Conversely, the uncertainty of the creative process makes them incredibly uneasy. Sometimes hostile. It’s human nature to not like what one doesn’t understand. And if you’re one of those people, please do not burn me at the stake for saying it, but the stuff you don’t understand is the real important stuff.

Metrics are great. But magic is what we should all be seeking.

Magic is what will make your brand come alive and feel different from anything else out there. Magic causes ordinary people to defend your product to their friends. Magic makes consumers feel emotions that even they have trouble putting into words.

How will you know when you have magic? Hopefully, you are working with some creative people who get it and can provide this kind of thinking to your brand. But you can also take a page out of Arthur C. Clarke’s playbook:

Any sufficiently provocative creative idea is indistinguishable from magic.

By provocative, I mean, it provokes a reaction. It causes an (often audible) response. Notably, over the years I’ve seen clients look at work which has caused them to audibly gasp or laugh out loud. They’ve even uttered words like, “Wow, that’s powerful.” But, interestingly, it’s still difficult for them to choose these ideas over more safe (and measurable) options. It’s human nature. That’s how uncomfortable people are with magic — even when they recognize the power of it!

I choose magic over metrics because I believe that emotion is far more powerful and more crucial to us as people than logic. Ultimately it will get us where we want to be. After that, of course, we can measure how far we’ve come.

Grant Sanders is the Creative Director at Mintz + Hoke Advertising in Avon, CT. He splits his time between there and his home on the magical island of Nantucket.