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Nonsense

The Power of Not Knowing

By Jamie Holmes
13-minute read
Audio available
Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes

Nonsense (2015) is all about ambiguity and the effect it has on our lives. We encounter situations we don’t understand all the time, both in regular daily life and in extreme situations like natural disasters. These blinks outline the widespread effects, both negative and positive, that this nonsense has on our behavior, and why it’s so important to understand it.

 

  • Anyone tasked with important decision-making
  • Negotiators and mediators
  • Language teachers

 

 

Jamie Holmes was an economics research coordinator at Harvard before he became a writer. His work has been published by the New York Times, CNN and The Huffington Post. Nonsense is his first book.

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Nonsense

The Power of Not Knowing

By Jamie Holmes
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes
Synopsis

Nonsense (2015) is all about ambiguity and the effect it has on our lives. We encounter situations we don’t understand all the time, both in regular daily life and in extreme situations like natural disasters. These blinks outline the widespread effects, both negative and positive, that this nonsense has on our behavior, and why it’s so important to understand it.

Key idea 1 of 8

Amusing or eye-catching ambiguity can be a useful tool for comedians and marketers.

There’s a lot of nonsense and ambiguity in our daily lives, even though we don’t always notice it. We can’t always make sense of the things around us – and sometimes that makes us laugh!

Humor often hinges on subtle ambiguity. Consider the joke, “There are only three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.” It’s funny because it confuses you for a moment, then you realize that the joke rests in the fact that the teller can’t count. Small ambiguities like that grab our attention, then amuse us.

The same thing happens if someone says, “Call me a cab” and another person responds with the joke, “You’re a cab.” The humor hinges on the ambiguity of the first phrase, where “call” could mean make a phone call or call someone’s name.

Marketers know that people like this kind of playful ambiguity, and they know how to use it to their advantage. Good marketers know that ambiguity can be an effective way of grabbing people’s attention in advertising.

Sweden’s Absolut Vodka did this in the 1980s and 1990s when they launched a series of ads that featured hidden bottles you couldn’t notice right away. The fact that the vodka bottles were obscured made the ads more intriguing.

One ad, “Absolut Boston,” for example, featured several dozen Absolut Vodka cases floating in Boston Harbor. At first glance, the cases appeared to be placed randomly, but upon further inspection, you noticed that together they formed the shape of a bottle. The ad garnered a lot of attention for the company.

Nonsense isn’t always positive, however. It can also have the opposite effect.

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