The trouble is not with me. The trouble is with what it means to solve problems in a dynamic culture. The trouble is with theory.
Marshall Sahlins argues that every theory is a bargain with reality. It gives us certain kinds of knowledge by denying us the possibility of other kinds of knowledge. (My phrasing. All regrets if the master had hoped for something more nuanced.)
Working for clients, we are obliged to deal always with shifting perspectives, mountains of data, complicated problem sets and an urgent time line. As good marketers, there is lots to crunch, much to contemplate, and the BFI (big f*cking idea) can come from any where. Anyone who is a slave to any one theory puts the enterprise at risk.
Solving the problems of most clients demands methodological lability and an intellectual opportunism. We want to have all the theories we have ever encountered at our disposal. In my case, this must mean a willingness to draw upon structuralism, semiotics, structural functionalism, functionalism, post modernism, and much else besides. We want to be agnostic.
Theoretical loyalty is a terrible idea not least because we are willing away all the other insights that promiscuity make available. Theoretical loyalty, that’s precisely the sort of thing that is likely to appeal to academics for whom tribal loyalty is the very point of the exercise, not least because it is so often used to decide whether and where they will be allowed to teach and publish.
No, a certain intellectual mobility is called for. Typically, we have 10 days between our introduction to the problem and the our conclusion. That’s 10 days to get from, say, a deep ignorance of the mutual fund industry to insights and recommendations that are capable of adding real value. I think we can not unless we are prepared to press into service any and all the intellectual patterns with which we are acquainted.
I am not arguing the case for no theory. The world of marketing began, I guess, in retail. Someone would go to the shop floor and see what was selling. This was all the intelligence one needed to stay in business. This was no theory. But every corporation is now a ship in high seas. Every kind of data must be consulted. Every kind of strategy contemplated. Only consultants who are prepared to make use of everything they know can serve. We do not wish these consultants to forsake theory. We want them to forsake the idea of a single theory. But a blue helmet on them if we must, but "ecumenical" is the watch word here.