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Cannes 2017

This Article About Beau Lotto's Cannes Speech Is Meaningless

The words making up this article are not meaningful. (That is not a referendum on this writer’s writing ability, though feel free to look at it that way.) Actually, is this even an article? It appears on a website, but if the words are meaningless, then the article is really nothing—basically doesn’t exist—and, for that matter, neither does this website.

The only reason any of this has any meaning is because we perceive it to. That’s what Beau Lotto, CEO of The Lab of Misfits, who spoke today at Cannes Lions would say. Perception, Lotto says, is everything.

Lotto was trying to convince a room full of marketing people that data is meaningless. He had a tough task, but he might have won them over. Using a number of optical illusions to illustrate how inherently biased we are, Lotto made the convincing case that deviating and expanding are key to better understanding the word around us.

The information we receive, whether that’s raw data, or colors, or the expression on someone’s face, is always ambiguous. We make inferences and and predictions based on our pasts, Lotto said—both our immediate past and our evolutionary past. “When you open your eyes, you see a meaning that was useful in the past,” Lotto said.

In case you thought Lotto was being simply nihilistic, he pointed out how our very survival depends on the many assumptions we make, based on our past experiences. When we walk, we do not expect our leg to suddenly give out and cause us to come crashing down. Our assumption that our legs will continue to work as they always have allows us the freedom to get up and walk across the room free of fear.

Breaking past these inherent biases is a tremendously difficult task. It’s why diversity is so important—all people have inherent biases, but people that come from different backgrounds, who have experienced different things and the same things different ways have different assumptions. When those assumptions challenge each other, it presents an opportunity to work within, as Lotto said, “A complex space of possibility.”

Experts, Lotto suggested, should converse with the naïve. You may think that a naïve person can’t do you any good, but as Lotto said: “Naïve people are great at asking questions, they just don’t know the questions are great.” But those “naïve questions challenge the expert to think differently And soon, the expert might find they’re not much of an expert after all.

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