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Excellence Diploma is an incubator for your own beliefs

Excellence Diploma is an incubator for your own beliefs
Erik Arnell, Global Communications Strategist at Carat Global, reflects on his rich and rewarding IPA Excellence Diploma experience.

A trailer for a film called ‘the Unbelievers’ appeared in my Facebook timeline recently. Towards the end of the trailer Ricky Gervais appeared and said something that stuck in my mind, he said: "Beliefs don't change facts; facts, if you are rational, should change your beliefs".

However, as behavioural economics has taught us, most people are far from rational, we are emotional beings.

Our own beliefs therefore do change facts. It might not be obvious, because we are not directly changing the facts themselves; instead we are changing their context via their selection, composition and interpretation.

In behavioural economics this phenomenon is called ‘confirmation bias’. In layman’s terms, this means we hold a tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize facts in a way that confirms our beliefs.

So what has this got to do with the IPA Excellence Diploma, I might hear you ask?

Give me a minute and it will become clear.

Beliefs are a conviction about how a certain part of our world works. Thus, they have an in-built word of mouth mechanic; beliefs are by their very construct something that is shared.

When I first started in this industry, an MD for a very large agency told me "We are in the perceptions industry, we sell beliefs".

Our industry, often lacking in physical output, has become better equipped at creating and sharing beliefs than most other industries. To the point that it’s become our currency, we share our beliefs both inside and outside our industry.

Like many of you who read this, I have been fed with other's beliefs my entire career. At the start, you latch on to them, because they organise this new scary world around you. Then what follows is ‘confirmation bias’ case study. We evolve our ‘fed beliefs’ by collecting the facts and information around us that support them.

As once unbiased grads we slowly grow into advocates of our own discipline, agency and agency discipline. Through this behaviour, our industry has created a self-perpetuating circle of regurgitated beliefs that diminishes our capacity for original thought by institutionalising our emerging practitioners around the beliefs of others.

This is the reason why the IPA Excellence Diploma is so important, but equally hard. The course slowly starts to break down the beliefs of others that reside within you. It creates a period of cognitive dissonance, where the only way out is for you to take all this new information and not taint it with your previous beliefs, but instead use it to express your own beliefs.

This is the Excellence Diploma and its caretaker’s service to our industry; a punch in the gut that makes us uncomfortable with our previously homogenous thinking.

In my case, it led me to question parts of my own group’s vision around convergence. The same goes for this year’s President’s Prize winner Gethin James, whose essay refuted the very tenet of what his agency built their client pitches on.

At its essence, the Excellence Diploma is an incubator for your own beliefs. Beliefs that drive original thinking and through which applications you can help fuel the future of our industry.

So if you are determined to make a dent in a world of brands or if you ever felt that what you say merely echoes those before you, then badger every stakeholder until they get fed-up and decide that a little less of you for 12 months might do them some good.

Sounds hard? Well that's the easy part. Once on the course, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone, suffer the ordeal of cognitive dissonance and be forced to make a sustained mental effort to solve this the hard way... via the creation of new beliefs.

As Ricky Gervais said: "Facts, if you are rational, should change your beliefs" ..not the other way around.

My top three tips, for anyone about to embark on this course:

  1. Mentor - Accessibility trumps seniority. As with cameras, the best one is the one that is there at the right time. So chose a mentor that you can debate with on a regular basis.
  2. Explore - Mark Earls said that the best work often comes from people that abandon the predictable path to instead explore a notion. I ignored him twice, until the last dissertation and it proved to be the most valuable advice I received.
  3. Time - Chances are that if your agency wants to invest in your training, they also value your work and want you to work across a lot of business. So ask your organisation to treat this course like they would a client and get a % allocation in your time sheets.

Erik Arnell is Global Communications Strategist at Carat Global/IPA Excellence Diploma graduate.

Learn more about the IPA Excellence Diploma and how it can boost your agency career.

Last updated 12/11/2014

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