Quick Fixes

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Better arguments make arguments better

When working with your team on a project that requires content, it can be easy to get lost in seemingly endless discussions about what to include, what to remove and what to change.

Suppose you need to create an announcement, or write a press release, or build a website, and you need to decide what text and graphics to include.Of course, it is good if your team is engaged and cares enough to spend time making things work.But it is bad when egos get in the way, discussions degenerate into nitpicking, progress stalls, and deadlines are barely met or even missed because no one can agree on anything.

You can cut through most sterile discussions if you can identify bullshit arguments used in favour of change for change’s sake, and remove those arguments from the conversation.

Here are the three most common bad arguments I often see used in favour of change:

  1. “I don’t like that. I prefer this”. Taste should not be a factor in any promotional decision. You cannot reach a reasonable conclusion if you try to base your argument on taste alone, precisely because taste defies reason. I mean, think about it: sometimes “beige” is the right answer, despite all your senses screaming to the contrary.

Instead focus on effectiveness, i.e. does the thing you want to do do what you want it to do? Leave taste for when you have to choose the wallpaper for your bedroom.

  1. People say/think/like/want/use…”, also known as the “Trump Justification”. Unless you have a solid corpus of data to back up your claim (which of course you don’t), you and your three mates, your spouse and your brother-in-law, or that random niche of weirdos on the internet do not statistically qualify as “people”.

Please look up what “anecdotal” means.

  1. “There’s nothing really wrong with it, but I can do it better”. Unless “improving things” is explicitly listed in your job description, do not “correct” what is already correct. This is a productivity killer and will more often than not lead to resentment and stubborn bikeshedding.

You can further cut through the bullshit in discussions by implementing the “Fury Road Rule for Changing Course”. This rule states that any request for a change must be accompanied by

  • At least three clear and solid reasons why the change must be made, and
  • the means to make the change effective already worked out and ready to go.

Otherwise, the request for change will be rejected.


Do not use these rules and guidelines to catch your team members and colleagues out every time they break them. These rules are always superseded by the ultimate rule for discussions, which is: “Don’t be an arsehole”.

Just as you discovered, even after reading about Logical Fallacies, that shouting “ad hominem!” is not enough to win an argument, you will not magically get 100% productive discussions just by censoring your teammates out of the blue.

First you need to learn how to recognise when you are using these unproductive arguments yourself, and then stop doing it.

And then stop for months.

The aim is to reach a state where you let things pass that you would otherwise object to. You don’t like the style of the video the team has made, but a previous video in the same style was very successful? That is your personal taste getting in the way. Find better reasons to object, or let the video pass.

You think a colleague’s idea for a campaign is boring and that most ‘people’ would enjoy a cleverer approach because ‘most people like a challenge’? But… How do you know? Have you got a study to prove that campaigns based on puzzling puns and wordplay are more successful? I thought not. Well, guess what? Simple and direct always works, while gimmicks often fail.

Do you think a paragraph in a press release your colleague wrote is too informal and you want to rewrite it to include lots of passives and words like “empower”, “synergies” and “projections”? What’s wrong with you?

When you have reached a state where you can identify and suppress the impulses to make fruitless changes without feeling too bad about yourself, you can move on to stage two and make these rules explicit to your team.

To do this, simply tell them. Tell them that suggestions for change based on subjective preferences, dubious or non-existent data and… er… narcissism, I guess, will not be considered and are therefore pointless to pass on. Similarly, requests for changes that don’t come with the solution packaged with the objections will also not be considered.


How does this work in practice? How do you prevent yourself from using a bad argument in a discussion about content?

Well, suppose you want to request a change to a photo of an event on a website.

Don’t say:

I don’t like this photo. Most people find it ugly. Please change it.

Do say:

  1. The faces of minors are visible. We would have to pixelate them or get their parents’ permission, but we don’t know who they are.
  2. Our logo in the background is out of focus.
  3. The colours are all brownish because of the lighting.

I have found another photo (attached) that does not have the first two problems and I have then colour corrected it to solve the third. I suggest we use it instead.

The second option is much more work, yes, but that is the point: you want the discussion to be productive, don’t you? Do the work while you discuss. Create things that can be used as you argue.

Or let’s say your team comes up with a new logo for your company.

Don’t say:

I don’t like this logo. Most people will think it is ugly. Please change it.

Do say:

  1. The graphic elements have nothing to do with what we do. The campfire element in particular… I don’t see the connection with estate agents.
  2. The colours clash with the rest of the corporate identity.
  3. The text font is hard to read.

I have commissioned a design for a new logo (attached) from a professional designer who is an expert in corporate identity. She has incorporated your suggestions and ideas into the design and will provide us with the final design based on your feedback at a reasonable cost.

Or let’s say your copywriter wrote your press release and you think it’s bad because it’s missing all the technical details that you think make your new product sound cool:

Don’t say:

Anything. Copywriters know what they’re doing much better than you do. Learn to shut up and let them do the job they are paid to do.

You get the idea.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.