A view from Dave Trott: The answer is, it depends
A view from Dave Trott

The answer is, it depends

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In 1975, Antanas Mockus became professor of mathematics and philosophy at the National University of Colombia.

By 1993, he was president of the university.

One day, he was trying to address the entire student body but they wouldn’t listen.

As he stood on the stage, they shouted and heckled and ignored him.

Then Mockus remembered Pierre Bourdieu’s theories on "symbolic violence".

What we would now call disruption.

He walked to the centre of the stage, at the very front, and undid his belt.

Then he lowered his trousers, lowered his underpants, turned around, bent over and spread his bare cheeks at the rioting audience.

Almost immediately the chaos stopped, and Mockus was finally able to address the crowd.

But that isn’t the behaviour expected of a university president, and Mockus had to resign.

The gesture had a benefit, however – it made him famous.

He was seen as a maverick, honest and different to others in positions of power.

And when Mockus stood for mayor of Bogotá, that’s exactly what everyone wanted.

After years of tired, corrupt politicians, the voters wanted something different.

Mockus was definitely disruptive in his thinking, but not glued to any dogma.

He would use data, emotion or logic – whatever was relevant to a situation.

For instance, the homicide rate in Bogotá was very high – naturally, everyone blamed the drug gangs.

But Mockus decided to use the data to define the problem.

And he found that 65% of the homicides happened at the weekends, late at night.

Which led him to check the alcohol levels in the victims’ bodies.

What he found was that 50% of the victims were intoxicated.

He followed the data and found young men were getting drunk and shooting each other.

So he changed the laws accordingly: bars would be shut at 1am.

And it was illegal to carry guns on festive days: like New Year’s Day.

And it was illegal to carry guns when wages were paid on Fridays and people were drinking.

Because of these changes, due to behaviour highlighted by data, homicides fell by 70%.

But Mockus didn’t just use data – he also used emotion.

Bogotá had an enormous amount of traffic fatalities.

Mockus knew that, for Colombians, shame was worse than punishment.

So he hired more than 400 mime artists to perform at busy intersections, publicly embarrassing drivers who broke the law.

Due to this emotional approach, traffic fatalities fell by 50%.

But Mockus could also use an appeal to logic and reason where necessary.

Bogotá badly needed to save water.

People were wasting valuable water by showering too often in the hot weather.

So Mockus went on TV with his wife.

They showered together, turning off the taps while they soaped each other up.

They saved water by showering together and also by using water just to rinse.

This appeal to logic reduced water usage by 40%.

Mockus served the maximum two terms as mayor, between 1994 and 2000.

What we can learn from him is the answer to what works best.

It shows it’s wrong to argue emotion versus reason, or to argue data versus intuition.

It shows the answer is to have them all available to us to use.

It shows the answer is to use the right tool for the job.

It shows the answer to "which is best?" is always "it depends".

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.