On the other hand, Wittgenstein was not a brand guru

Okay, so I took the Harvard Business Review seriously.  Back in 2004 they ran an issue about breakthrough ideas for 2004.  Number 9 on the list was “The M.F.A. is the new M.B.A.”   The piece was written by Daniel Pink.

Yes! I said at the time.  Yes!  Exactly!  

Here’s an example of how I see an MFA benefiting companies.  It can improve the ability of your branding to engage consumers. More engaging branding = more effective branding. It can be put into practice by having one key person on your team who really knows and understands the elements and structure of narrative.  That  is extremely valuable if your brand marketing is to be more than just a hit or miss process.  It is extremely valuable if your marketing department is to get the best work out of your outside creative agencies.

But…

An MFA alone won’t succeed.  You need someone who is equally an MFA and an MBA.  You need someone with the skill and ability to synthesize both the creative and the business perspectives.  Those people are rare.  I suspect that is because our society tends to discourage people from crossing boundaries between the creative and business sides of life.  

It’s stereotyping, of course.  The recent stories about the photographer Annie Leibovitz being in financial difficulties is an example of the stereotypical view that great artists aren’t such great business minds.  Never mind about T.S. Eliot being an executive at Lloyds Bank.  Or that Franz Kafka was an insurance executive.  Henry Green was a business executive, too. Louis Begley (About Schmidt) was a highly successful lawyer.

Just adding an MFA to the marketing department will not work miracles.  It is also important to create an atmosphere where the MFA and the MBA can work as a team of equals, with mutual respect.  From my perspective that is not so easy to accomplish in the real world.  And in today’s economy having an MFA in the marketing department can seem like a frivolous extravagance.

A good place to start would be having some interaction between the business school and the school of the arts at places like NYU, Columbia or the University of Pennsylvania.  Just imagine how much richer (in content) the marketing programs would be!

Full disclosure: I have both a degree in Economics and an MFA in creative writing.  There is probably a good deal of bias in this post!  

Even without an MFA, everyone can gain a fundamental understanding of the structure behind great narratives.  All you have to do is spend an afternoon reading through Aristotle’s Poetics.  Aristotle was perhaps the first brand guru, laying out all of the elements of a great narrative in his Poetics.  He knew that a value proposition was limp and unconvincing without having metaphor, character, plot, visual elements and music to give it the breath of life.

However, I do draw the line at other philosophers.  Wittgenstein just got it wrong.  “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (translation by C.K. Ogden).  Clearly the man was word-mad.  Communications through images, visual metaphors, sound — all are powerful.  In fact, more powerful than words alone.  Frankly, it’s not worth the effort to read Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.  This afternoon would have been better spent if I had just left it unread on the shelf along with all of the unread marketing books I’ve collected.  

Oh, and one last question.  Why did HBR choose Number 9?  The Beatles’ White Album, anyone?

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