The Better Mousetrap: A book review by Bob Morris

The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy
Simon Pont
Kogan Page (2012)

“Reality is a collective hunch.” Lily Tomlin

When I noted the subtitle of Simon Pont’s book, “Brand Invention in a Media of Democracy,” I immediately – and incorrectly – assumed that his focus would be on how effective branding can help to create or increase demand for whatever is offered. It could be a product, a service, or both. In fact, Pont has much of value to say about brands, branding, marketing, and consumers — but the scope and depth of his attention include more, much more.

According to Steven Wright, “The early bird may catch the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read someone observe, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” To which Pont responds, “So said Ralph Waldo Emerson in toast of the innovative spirit and the rewards that (should) follow. I guess ‘Build it and they will come’ is an abridged riff on the same. That is, assuming ‘it’ is any good. And that’s always the trick.” I agree.

What we have in this volume are Pont’s perspectives on a world in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves. They sit within a wild, weird, and wonderful frame of change. But there is a frame. I don’t believe change is the only constant, but that certain fundamental truths remain rock-solid. Up remains up, down down, gravity prevents us from falling into a big blue sky…and people don’t fundamental change. That’s the frame.”

These are among the passages that were of greatest interest and value to me, listed to indicate the range of subjects that Pont discusses with rigor and eloquence:

o The Brand Organic (Page 10)
o Brands Must Behave, Must Woo (15)
o “Yours Digitally”: Brand Charisma’s Second Coming (48)
o You Are Your Own Mousetrap (78)
o In Strangers We Trust (94)
o The Age of the Accelerated Consumer (97)
o Through a Glass Darkly (122)
o Truth, Lies, and Advertising (147)
o Irrational Reasoning, Magpie Desire and the Watch from Outer Space (156)
o “Digital”: What It s, What It Isn’t (196)
o The Second Fundamental: Avoid Launching Ghost Ships (218)
o The Kids Have Taken Over the Place (233)
o The Fabric of Things (261)

Years ago, one of the screenwriters and Hollywood insiders, William Goldman, observed, “Nobody knows nothing.” Goldman agrees with Socrates as does Pont, and I agree with them. “It takes a guy as smart as Goldman to so accurately nail it, and while he was talking pointedly of the movie industry, the line applies pretty much across the board…Goldman means that no one knows anything for sure, that foresight is a hunch, that everyone is making it up as best they can, and that life’s winners are those who smile at the truth of it and can cut a wake through a Sargasso of ego, guesswork, bullshit, and chance.”

Pont urges his reader to accept the fact that building a better whatever requires a different mindset than the one she or he had when beginning to read this book. Stated another way, Pont urges his reader to think differently about thinking differently. The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books suggests that “what got you here won’t get you there.” Presumably Pont agrees with me that, to paraphrase Goldsmith, “what got you here won’t even keep you here,” wherever that may be.

The world we share is indeed one in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves.” So must we if we are to survive and, perhaps, succeed. Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

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