Alan Turing, hero


On Monday night, I watched a preview of a forthcoming Channel 4 film called World’s Greatest Codebreaker (typical Channel 4 programme title. Possessive noun – Superlative Adjective – Noun). It was the story of the life and work of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma code in the Second World War and saved us from being beaten by the Nazis. The man who also invented binary code, the computer and the internet. He inspired Blade Runner and thousands of 30-somethings to dress up for a Secret Cinema event in futuristic outfits. He was a post-modernist before Modernism. He noticed that there was a science in the way that nature was arranged, from how a flower will always have a number of petals from the Fibonacci series (1-1-2-3-5-8 etc) to the uniformity of a fish’s spots or a tiger’s stripes.

How the hell did he do all of this? As Bertie Wooster would have so sagely observed, “Damn clever cove that, Jeeves. Must eat a lot of fish.” So apart from eating a lot of fish, and being a natural brain, he had two brilliant strategies:

1. Collaboration.

As a boy at Sherbourne, he met Christopher Morcom, another highly intelligent mathematician. He was a huge influence for Turing, and a lot of Turing’s early work was an attempt to show off to Morcom, to impress him. As their friendship developed, they collaborated on projects more and more helping and inspiring each other to do better. The difference between “Yes, and” rather than “Yes, but”. One takes you to new places and opportunities, the other cuts those avenues dead.

The more we can build off each other, the more our ideas can grow. People have different areas of expertise and we need to listen to each other to develop and flourish. An idea can come from anybody (a media planner, digital planner, buyer, creative agency, PR, client) and then it needs to be built up, pulling in all the individual specialists. What’s the best way to make this work across disciplines, in all channels.

2. Careful study of his environment

While Alan Turing took this to the extreme, and managed to crack the Enigma code *by hand*, we can learn a lot from this approach. What we have in spades is data. What we don’t have is patience. There are some things that seem, on face value, to be very important. Remember 2002? Mobile! Everyone’s got a mobile, we should be on mobile! (c) everyone, everywhere. Or nowadays, when we over-emphasise the importance of platform over content. We need to stop and take stock of what people are actually doing with different media. Online, are they looking at video content? Are they looking at updates from brands on social pages? With TV, outdoor, radio and print media, people only have the option of consuming them in one way. With the internet, you set your parameters, and we need to tailor our brand behaviour to what people are doing in specific environments.  

Alan Turing, hero. Or as he would say 1100111000110001101010

 Posted by: Juliet Du Vivier



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