I Get So Emotional, Baby. Every Time I Think Of You.

Arsene Wenger said that ‘we have moved from being a thinking society to being an emotional society’.

He might be right. (Although how much did the West ever genuinely think after the Battle of Corinth….?)

In any event, most agencies seem to be on board with Le Professeur. They’ve all got their own ‘human’ this or ‘emotional’ that as they enthuse to clients about the importance of connecting with Haidt’s elephant, and not his rider. It makes sense. We know that the best work gets us at a visceral, unconscious level.

But the relationship between emotion and great creative work isn’t straightforward. It’s actually pretty complicated. And it’s getting more so.

This isn’t so much about agencies overdoing the schmaltz (though that’s a real risk, as the last round of Christmas and Superbowl ads showed), nor is it about a return to the bad old days of the Stiff Upper Lip.

It’s simply that too much emotion can often turn into intolerance. And intolerance kills creativity.

Britain looks like a fairly highly-strung place these days; a far cry from the tolerant country that I grew up in. We seem to be in the grip of a pandemic.

‘Outraged’ and ‘offended’ are the mots de nos jours.

Hypertense, strangulated tones surround us, from the distinctly un-British aggro in queues, to roadrage, to angrier and angrier letters to newspapers and calls to LBC.

It’s like everyone in the country is engaging in their own equivalent of being the nutter at the bar; almost goading you to spill his pint so he can ‘have a go’.

To a large extent, of course, this has been driven by the ubiquity of social media. We are all being exposed to many more opinions, much more of the time.

James Blunt, himself no stranger to a bit of twitter-baiting, was once quoted as saying that opinions are like arseholes: everyone’s got one. We might add that many of them are horrendously unpleasant when you see them up close…..

Those of us who care about creativity in the workplace need to guard against this. This is not least because tolerance is the goose that laid our golden egg.

Tolerance is a precondition to novation; the willingness to think that little bit differently, to accept new ideas from new places, is what produces genuinely fresh thinking. Orwell’s Big Brother knew that if he stifled freedom of speech, he ultimately stifled freedom of thought, which in turn would mean no creativity – just what he wanted.

Tolerance is what we Brits, the world over, are famous for. We don’t like the state-knows-best dirigisme of Arsene’s patrimoine, preferring instead to put our faith in the eccentric ingenuity of our (often odd, and quirky) people.

Tolerance is the Magna Carta; tolerance is John Stuart Mill, the Non-Conformists, the Suffragettes, Quentin Crisp, Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood.

Tolerance is the creation, lauding and awarding of a TV spot that would never even get thought of in the US, let alone commissioned.

Tolerance is Britain and Britain is tolerance.

And here’s the thing: the world needs tolerance like never before. If we play our cards right, we have a golden opportunity.

So let’s get emotional, absolutely. Cry me a river. Or at least a bathful of water.

Just don’t chuck our beautiful baby out with it.

Monticello LLP

– this piece first kindly published by Campaign Magazine