You know when you’ve had an argument over dinner?
Then, some time later, when you’re on your way home, you think of the thing you wish you’d said.
The killer remark that would have floored everyone.
But you thought of it too late.
That’s what the French call "l’esprit de l’escalier", meaning the spirit of the staircase.
The thought you have on the stairs after you’ve left the party.
The term was coined by 18th-century philosopher Denis Diderot.
He said: "A sensitive man like myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again when he reaches the bottom of the stairs."
We all know that feeling: if we had more time to think, we could have done it better.
We could have spotted the thing that would have been brilliant.
I certainly need time to think.
That’s why I want l’esprit de l’escalier included in my job.
I don’t want to think of the thing I wish I’d done when it’s too late.
Thinking is the most important part of the whole process.
But everyone knows the part of the process that gets the least time is the thinking part.
The part that gets the most time is the approvals part.
In my experience, it’s about one-third thinking to two-thirds approval.
So I get, say, two or three days to think of an idea.
Then marketing gets at least two weeks to think about it.
In truth, the two weeks aren’t even spent thinking about it.
They’re spent waiting until everyone can arrange their diaries to get together for meetings.
Because approvals is the part of the process that’s never rushed.
If there isn’t enough time, then time gets shaved off the thinking part, never off the approvals process.
And the largest part of the approvals process is the time the idea spends waiting to be looked at.
Waiting for a meeting, then time to think it over, then waiting for another meeting.
So the longest time is spent not thinking.
The army has an expression for this: "Hurry up and wait."
Everyone does the impossible, getting vast amounts of men and equipment into position ASAP, then sits around doing nothing while they wait for orders.
That’s how a lot of our work is done.
Under these circumstances, there is no time to include l’esprit de l’escalier in the thinking.
The first time we experience l’esprit de l’escalier is when we see our work on air.
Then we look at it and see what we wish we’d done.
All the ways it could have been better.
That’s why the remark that always winds me up is when someone says: "You know what we should have done…"
That information is no good to me now.
We should have had that information before we did it, not after.
We could have been thinking about it instead of wasting time while it was sitting in someone’s inbox waiting for a meeting.
Then we could have done it better.
Then that time would have been usefully spent making a better ad.
Advertising de l’escalier is no use to anyone.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.