Police Explain

Police Explain

Last week Australian Senator Pauline Hanson suggested solving the growing cane toad population in Queensland with a Cash-for-cane toad program involving the unemployed. For those who don’t know Pauline Hanson it’s probably one of her least offensive suggestions, but amazingly shows how people in power don’t understand human behaviour.

I don’t even need to talk theoretically. If you go far back enough history will teach you. In 1902 Vietnam’s sewer system was overrun with rats. The solution from the French governor? A rat rebate. To encourage people to kill the rats a fee was paid for every rat’s tail submitted. As you can imagine, an entrepreneurial population soon started breeding rats for their tails and the problem magnified.

Probably much scarier when it comes to targets and numbers is the news that Victoria Police falsified 258,000 breath tests. They faked quarter of a million negative test results. They did this so that positive results were no more than a target level of 0.5% of all tests. As it actually numbers of drink driving lowers it’s harder to hit a new target, but easier to falsify the data.

And it reminds me of Goodhart’s law. 
Goodhart suggests;

“When a measure becomes a target, 
it ceases to be a good measure.”

But it also reminds me of a recent episode of Reply All

The episode was all about Compstat. A system used in New York, designed to measure types of crime and their rates. It was the brainchild of Jack Maple, an eccentric underground cop (literally he patrolled the subway). His decade of observing crime on the subway led him to suggest that NY wasn’t the victim of a crime wave, but just a few perps who travelled the subway committing multiple crimes. The data he collected highlighted that crime rates matched the train routes and times. This allowed his team to predict where crimes would happen and enabled his team to set traps. The subway crime rate plummeted and his methods were deemed so successful he was made deputy police commissioner and implemented a data-based system across NY.

He used data to identify where crime was occurring and the types. He held sessions with police chiefs from each district to find out why certain crimes weren’t being investigated and these terrifying sessions were feared by all the Chiefs. So eventually over time and subsequent decades, when they couldn’t squeeze the crime rate down any further, they started to cheat. Rape started being reported as assault, assault as affray, and sometime they may discourage the report altogether. Pressure was on every year to lower the crime rate. Each department was responsible for gathering the data so they had an incentive to alter it. At the same time, New York Mayor Rudi Gulianni had his broken window policy. He felt that an increase in arrests was a good thing. It meant every small crime was being dealt with, which in the long term prevented people from progressing to more serious ones. This was in contrast to Jack Maple who believed if you reduce the crime rate by arresting the right people then overall arrests won’t go up as you’ve literally arrested the problem. He felt crime wasn’t committed by lots of individuals, there weren’t lots of bad people in the city, just a few bad people doing a lot. Targetting the actual damaging crime was what solved the problem, not the small ones.

But Gulliani got his way as it “tough on crime” is an easier story to sell and politically looked better. So arrests were added to key measures and therefore had to go up each year to show an improvement. Tricky if people aren’t committing crime, so all cops ended up with quotas to arrest more and more, whether they be serious crime or just minor offences, like jaywalking, or littering.

What everyone hadn’t really appreciated except Jack Maple was that the stats weren’t used to measure, they were used to highlight. They were used as an insight. They showed where to look. But the crime might be committed by lots or just a few. The situation was more nuanced than just numbers. But that requires work, investigation, skill in storytelling and understanding of motivations. Things often associated with soft approaches to crime. Whereas chasing numbers each year shows a strong approach to crime.


Sources: FBI & NY State Criminal Justice Services.

Jack Maple’s creation mutated into a machine that forced NY police officers to arrest more and more people to increasingly show they were being tough on crime. Even if that meant arresting a 16-year-old girl for blocking the sidewalk.

So where does this story bring us?

As a child growing up in the 80’s UK I remember the government’s solution to the rising unemployment rate was to redefine the term unemployed. Out of work for just a month didn’t count, they now measured how many jobs you looked for and how many interviews you attended, not enough meant you weren’t actually unemployed. The aim was to reduce the total, not to solve the problem.

VW recently got caught building detection evading technology to avoid emissions tests into their cars. Their flagship diesel‘s’ were a wonder of efficiency. How could they get the level of performance they suggested and be so clean with their emissions? Easy, they rigged their cars to know when they’re being emissions tested and alter their exhaust output.

There are countless other measures where the statistic is used as the primary goal rather than to help drive insight. It reminds me of a project I was on.

It reminds me of a project I worked on for financial services client. After reviewing their application process we made a heap fo recommendations. However the larger suggestions meant changing their entire process. This was rejected as they had no way to identify what individual item made the the business improvement. They weren’t disputing that it would probably improve the business, just that their business targets were based on measuring where the improvements came from. So the target became what they focused on, not what was better for the business. It made me realise that with the proliferation of data these days it’s purpose isn’t to use it to make your decisions, all data is corruptible and can easily be misread or massaged. data needs to be used to highlight where to focus your attention.

So my message to all senior product and marketing managers is this;
Data isn’t your master it’s your servant and as David Ogilvy once said,

“Too many people use data as a drunk uses a lamppost, 
for support rather than for illumination”.

Don't over think it

Don't over think it

In 1997 Gary Kasparov was world chess champion and believed to be the greatest player ever. In an historic tournament he was pitted against the best artificial intelligence had to offer, IBM's Deep Blue.

Kasparov wiped the floor with Deep Blue in the first game and a similar result was on in the second. Given the many moves possible by both players, even grandmasters are only able to think 4 or 5 moves ahead.  Midway through the second game Deep Blue made a move that threw Gary. This move seemed like a backward step. It didn't progress it's attack and it hardly bolstered it's defence. Yet this super computer made such an ordinary move. This panicked Gary. Could it be that Deep Blue's processor could assess far more moves ahead than he could? Could it see a future possible situation where this would be the best move?

If a computer could think this far ahead how could he ever beat it? The first game must have been a learning process and now it had figured out his style of play. Could this be the end for human intellect? These are the thoughts that worried Kasparov and eventually he forfeited the second game.

This dread affected him so much that he lost one more game and drew the others. He lost the series 2-1 and the world's best human was beaten for the first time by the world's best computer.

Years later the truth came. Tournament rules require a move to be made in a set amount of time. In 1997 even super computers were only so good. It couldn't calculate every possible combination of move and response in the time limit. So it's programming made it perform a safe default move so it didn't forfeit the game. In essence Gary's mind was beaten by Gary's mind. Or in simpler words, he over thought it.

A good reminder to always play your own game and not to over think things so far into the future. We never really know what's going on in someone else's head. We can never be 100% sure of what motivates peoples actions, so let's not over engineer things.


Advertising doesn't work on me

Advertising doesn't work on me

Look down. 

Actually before we start, this is only relevant to males... sorry.

Look down.

What are you wearing? I don't want to sound too crude, but, what underwear are you wearing?

There's a strong chance it's boxer shorts.

Now watch this

In 1984 UK men didn't really think much about what underwear they wore. In fact if you look at many pictures from the time you'd be correct in thinking they didn't think much about their outerwear too.

Briefs though were common.

When the BBH creatives came up with this ad to promote Levis shrink fit 501's, the script originally had Nick Kamen wearing briefs. When the producers sent the idea to the Advertising Standards Authority they took exception. They didn't feel briefs left much to the imagination. The ASA suggested a compromise, they said they'd be fine if he wore boxer shorts.


This was 1984. In the early 80's boxer shorts were what middle aged American men wore. It was a daggy throwback to the 1950's. However they still wanted to make the ad and Nick was a good looking guy, so it could still work, and so it was made.

Many Levis were sold.

And many boxer shorts too.

Unexpectedly Boxer shorts were now seen as sexy. Men could now pose semi naked without the unfortunate budgie smuggler look... if they were so inclined. Boxer shorts infiltrated British media and culture. Eastenders characters were caught-in-the-act in boxer shorts, Matt Goss from Bros. appeared on stage in just his American flag boxers and more relevant if you're a guy, you're probably wearing them now.

Fashion changed just by an ad and it wasn't even trying to sell them.

Advertising is pervasive. Sometimes it mimics culture and sometimes it changes it.

A fast education in advertising

A fast education in advertising

Many years ago I was wandering around the NGV book shop and bought George Lois's book "Damn Good Advice". I loved it and wanted more so hunted out and found the Future of Advertising podcast by Dave Birrs. A talented broadcaster and creative director.

I credit this podcast to sparking my decision to move from being a designer to being an advertising creative.

Dave interviews many of the ad industries creative heavy weights. He's no Paxman, he lets them tell their compelling story of finding their creative way. Some are opinionated (actually many, but in a good way) and some have  shrewd life lessons to share. 

If you want a fast track induction into the power of advertising to create people who "Think Different" and don't accept convention, then I gently nudge you in the ribs with a knowing wink  and encourage you to let these podcasts into your earholes.

All work copyright Dave Birrs

Have you ever had to hide as an adult?


Have you ever had to hide as an adult?

This is an excerpt from a longer Steve Jobs quote about creativity. In essence no idea is original, it's just a joining of two things to create something new.

Whether you're in advertising or any industry where you have to solve problems it's important to fill your head with stimulation. Things to join with other things. Building blocks for creativity. Whether useful facts or weird bits of human truth.

Some people read, some people check out art galleries, I listen to Danny Baker. The god father of peculiar human truths. On his radio show it's common to hear the phone-in topics as random as "Who's the most famous person you've met in the rest room" or "Have you ever had to hide as an adult?".

Perhaps not accessible to all,  the answers these elicit tell you a lot about the minutia of human existence.  As a creative these spark colourful new thinking and as a minimum, break the silence when your partner has a creative block.

Check his podcast out below,


Or listen to an interview he did last year with comedian Richard Herring.


Tips from a master

Tips from a master

Not much blurb here just wanted to share these tips on being creative from someone who's life is all about seeing the world in a different way, John Cleese.

Stupid thinks complicated is clever

Stupid thinks complicated is clever

Two explorers are walking in the jungle. They come to a clearing, where they see a tiger. The tiger snarls and starts to approach them. Quickly, one of the explorers digs into his pack, pulls out running shoes, and starts putting them on. The other explorer looks at him quizzically and says,
“Surely you don’t think you can outrun a tiger?” 
"I don't need to outrun the tiger, I just need to outrun you"

This is an example of taking a problem you can't solve and and changing it to a problem you can solve. This is Predatory Thinking, and this is what Dave Trott is an expert in. 

When I talk to people and say advertising thinking will save the world, they look at me like i'm some right wing capitalist obsessive. I forget that people haven't spent years listening to talks and reading books by Dave Trott. He's an advertising creative director but first and foremost he's a simple thinker who solves problems without taking on board pre existing or lazy thinking.

I'm using my blog to showcase some of the great thinkers in my industry and he's #1 on my list. What he has to say will help any business. You don't need to watch, just have it on in the background while you do some important mouse wiggling.

If you want to read some of his wisdom check his blogs at

Campaign Live - Dave Trott Blog

Dave Trott's Blog


Just be amazing!

Just be amazing!

I heard an interview with Rory Reid the other day. Don't know him? You will do soon. Well probably, depends if you watch Top Gear. Rory is a radio presenter and applied to be on the show. In the interview he told us of his long series of auditions and the obligatory driving-a-fast-car-while-talking-to-camera screen tests. After all of this he got a call. To tell him he was unsuccessful. He was understandably gutted. So he went out and made this video. He made it to demonstrate to himself and the world he thought he was the right person for the job. that he had something no one else had and they had made a mistake.

He sent it to them and said when you get a chance have a look. They next day they called him back to offer him the job.

Watch the video and you realise how different he is to anyone else that's been on the show.  He stood out. and he offered something no-one else did. Just a reminder to all of us... especially for those in advertising or marketing.

The future is 360

The future is 360

I'm a huge fan of Rory Sutherland. Occasionally i'll listen to his talks just for inspiration or to learn a simple way to say something complicated.

Often I have the lecture's on in the background, however I noticed this, while it was playing in YouTube.

It's the familiar Google maps navigation device. 

Play with it in this video. Or even use your little grabby hand and move the video.

Oh my god, how cool is that?

It's a pretty awesome feature. Just in case it's not working for you, as you move the navigation icon, you move around the room. Perhaps this talk is not the most exciting use of this tech. However i'm looking forward to premier league games on YouTube next season.