Marketers and The Myth of Perfect Control

You're not broken. I promise.


I can understand why you would think you are, though. After all, you're an expert in yourself. Like a fine painter, you're so familiar with your subject matter that you quickly notice when things are off by a hair. Leonardo da Vinci would surely notice if Lisa had her hands crossed incorrectly, and so you notice a little extra puffiness in your cheeks or a tiny blemish the size of a pinhead on the side of your nostril.

But the dark side of expertise is obsession. And there are few obsessions more tempting than envy and self-criticism. It’s part of the human condition. But there is no worse place to be. Self-pity is quicksand, and will keep you mired and focused inward, contemplating your slightly-less-than-perfect navel.

Today, with technology bringing more of the world under our control, envy and self-pity can lead to never-ending consumption and modification. There is always another watch you can buy, or wine you can drink, to feel a little more worthwhile and confident. In 1800, if you were born with a less than flattering nose, you had to deal with it. In 2015, you can get a masterful nostril reshaping done to the specifications of your favorite celebrity.

In psychology, this is called your locus of control. If you believe you can control what happens to you in life, you have what’s called an internal locus of control. If you believe you’re at the mercy of outside forces, you have what’s called an external locus of control. And in the 21st century, everyone is being internalized. This is a blessing for humanity, but a control freak’s nightmare. While you might have learned how to come to peace with the uncertainty of life and your imperfections in the 19th or 18th centuries, today you can decide to successfully wage all-out war against everything you don’t like.

This is partly due to true technological advancements, and partly due to devilishly effective marketing. Technological advancements in computing, medicine, agriculture, mobile phones, and so forth have genuinely given us control over much of our lives. But consumer marketing, pioneered by Edward Bernays in the early 20th century, has given us an even greater illusion of control.

Each product in our lives has been associated with a happy outcome or a positive image. Toilet paper is no longer just toilet paper. It’s a kid pleaser and a home saver. In ad after ad we see a happy father pull a 12-pack of extra-ply TP off the shelf while his nearby children cheer and smile. Consciously we see this ad as ridiculous. Subconsciously, though, a connection has been made between the product and our happy children. “Buy this product and your kids will be contented” seems to be the hidden message. And so we purchase product after product with expertly crafted associations and branding. Consciously, we don’t really expect anything magical to happen. Over time, however, we might notice ourselves getting a bit frustrated with the world. The kids aren’t happy. The boss doesn’t respond the way we’d like to our presentation. A new freckle or zit has popped up on the nose.

This is life. It’s uncertain, wild, and mostly uncontrollable. It’s imperfect and will always be — and so are you. We all are. In our never-ending quest to create our ideal selves and life, let’s not forget that true perfection comes when we change the things we can, and accept the rest. Every great hero has a flaw.

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Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.

Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.

Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.

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