Thomas Friedman On Slowing Down

The day could only be described as a perfect mix of breeze and sunshine. Visitors of the OMD Oasis gathered around under the smooth sunlight to make small talk just moments before noon; the air bubbling with murmurs and the occasional laughter; a representative sample of the atmosphere around the Palais here in Cannes.Presentation2

Nothing could’ve made the moment any better than the pleasure of listening to an insightful and deeply human talk by multiple-Pulitzer Prize winner and The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Using some of the thoughts in his upcoming book “Thank You For Being Late” as a starting point, Mr. Friedman went on to give a thought-provoking overview of the forces he deems are shaping the world today.

His talk, titled “A Brief Theory Of Everything Transforming Our World”, pinpointed these forces as Market, Mother Nature and Moore’s law.

The rapid changes in these three forces are shaping the world, he said. “Geopolitics, politics, the workplace, ethics and morals” are all being transformed, Friedman added.

What Our Industry Can Do

Although the talk gravitated towards politics more frequently than media, marketing or advertising, it was easy to draw parallels and insights into practices that could very well translate.

“Ideas circulate faster today than ever before, and opinions now change at a quick rate,” Friedman stated. Technology is accelerating faster than we can adapt. The real challenge becomes our ability to change. But humans, says Friedman, cannot adapt as fast as technology is moving.

How does one deal with these forces? According to Friedman, the trick is in slowing down. He quotes “The Eye”, a song by one of his favorite singers, Brandi Carlile, the chorus of which goes “You can dance in a hurricane/But only if you’re standing in the eye.”

Advice For Content Producers

You can’t fight the hurricane, Friedman advised, “You can create an island of serenity in the eye. Don’t fight the changes. Take your energy from it.” In his book, he calls it “pausing”.  It was easy for me to see how the changing landscape of content, for example, could benefit from his advice.

In a world where people are bombarded with so much content and information online, it is our challenge to convince people to grant us their time or attention. We talk about best practices and video durations, but what ends up happening is that we lose the story for the form. We want to finish so quickly that we miss out on delivering substance.

What we ought to do, by Friedman’s advice, is to slow down, make real human connections, and take our time to tell our stories.

Purposeful Marketing

Friedman raised the interesting point that the purpose of successful technology is to reduce complexity. “The only way we can manage this is if we turn Artificial Intelligence into Intelligent Assistance. Allow people to operate at a higher level of complexity,” he explained.

The phone we have in our pockets allows us to do so much more with a single touch, he pointed out. It has reduced the complexity of our tasks by minimizing our efforts. Friedman’s talk made me think about brands that make people’s lives easier versus brands that simply want to sell.  The future is in purposeful marketing.

In a related point, he argues that the ideal governing body today unit isn’t the state. He says it’s far too behind on technology to be able to govern. “It’s not the single family, either. It’s too weak [against technology]. “ It’s at the community level, he said. Communities can respond at a local level, to relevant problems, and using the right technology.

Once again, that relates to our marketing efforts, as we take brands from being a state —from being just another company trying to dictate its values— to being a community. Only when operating at a community level, with real on-ground insights into what moves its consumers, can a brand make meaningful contributions.

Slow Down And Connect

The most touching and personal part of Friedman’s talk came at the end when he responded to a question by elaborating on how he interacts with the world. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my [phone]. But I’m not active on social media platforms. The New York Times tweets my column. But when it comes to learning, I prefer to keep it slow.” He points to the gentleman who asked the question, then points back at himself. “This…this is how I like to learn.”

He’s talking about real, slow, and human interaction, like that taking place on this sunny day at the OMD Oasis. One that is not interrupted by the fast-paced technology that keeps us operating at a much higher speed; a speed at which it would be nearly impossible to make meaning of information, and build real relationships.

For more information about the #OMDOASIS at Cannes Lions, go to cannes.omd.com.

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About Author

Rami Salame

With a decade of experience in PR and advertising, Rami manages OMD UAE's clients' content investments, starting from creative strategy to creation, all the way to ROI evaluation.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the good read.

    After his “Flat World” this book seems fitting, it would be interesting to probe more into it.
    I guess the issue of finding the balance or the pace of this (slowing down) is key, and I hope the book mentions some practical mechanisms toward achieving such.

    If you slow down, as an individual, institution, or a nation, you might risk (or be under the illusion/fear of missing out) opportunities. The whole connectedness game out there -marketing or not- favours the minute-by-minute alertness and pretty much, I would argue, punishes the late-movers. That is why we are on the edge most of the time.

    It is true that the technological advancements are enablers of this phenomenon; (FOMO), but the venue for deep, meaningful interactions is a consequence of these advancements and a culture that celebrates the virtual way more than the actual.

    The breakthroughs in communication was “supposed to” aid in the core fabric of human interaction but now it is hugely circumventing it and taking its driver seat’s slot!

    Thanks once again.

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