A view from Dave Trott: No grit, no pearl
A view from Dave Trott

No grit, no pearl

Oysters secrete a substance called nacre, or mother-of-pearl.

Generally, this lines the inside of their shell.

It covers everything and it’s not valuable.

Until a grain of sand or grit gets inside the shell.

Then the oyster’s defence mechanism begins to cover the tiny intrusive object with the nacre.

Instead of just lining the shell, it wraps more and more nacre around the piece of grit: layer on layer.

Until eventually we have what we know as a pearl.

Incredibly valuable: made from the same substance that wasn’t valuable while it was just lining the shell.

A rare and beautiful pearl.

But it couldn’t have happened without that piece of grit.

Without the piece of grit, the nacre would have nothing to wrap itself around.

That’s exactly how the best advertising works.

The piece of grit is the rational mind: the reason, the idea.

The nacre is the emotional mind: the style, the execution.

We need both, and we need them to work just like that.

The piece of grit on its own is nothing – it’s dull and boring.

The nacre on its own has no focus or meaning – it’s just wallpaper.

That’s why the debate between emotion and reason is silly.

Reason is what we have to deliver: the grit.

Emotion is how we deliver it: the nacre.

If we deliver a reason in a convincing way, we will get an emotional response: trust, sympathy, desire, belief.

But if we try to get an emotional response with no reason at all, we sound hollow and empty, manipulative.

Take Apple: all of us responded to the brand in an emotional way.

It’s beautiful, it’s exciting, I want one.

But we responded because Steve Jobs presented a rational argument in a persuasive, emotional way.

It was a rational thought wrapped in an emotional execution.

It wasn’t an "either/or" choice.

More powerful than an empty emotional claim alone is the emotional power of reason.

Don’t tell me you’re a comedian – make me laugh.

Telling me you’re a comedian doesn’t convince me.

My emotional response is it’s an empty claim, it’s not funny, so you’re not a comedian.

But if you make me laugh, my emotional response is that you’re funny – in which case, you’re a comedian.

Many people seem to believe it’s a mutually exclusive choice between rational and emotional.

They’ve heard that emotion works, so they dump anything to do with the rational.

They assume the grit and the pearl are mutually exclusive.

But if you ignore the piece of grit, you have nothing to wrap your mother-of-pearl around.

You end up with a lot of unfocused emotion.

And your mother-of-pearl looks just like all the other mother-of-pearl lining all the other shells.

But if you want a pearl, you must have something rational, however tiny, to focus on.

To wrap the mother-of-pearl around.

Then you really will be making something valuable.

But remember: no grit, no pearl.

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