Submitted by: Dave Trott 25/07/2017
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When my son was small, his teacher said she wanted a word with us.
The problem was Lee kept swinging on the banister in the stairwell.
This was three floors up above concrete stairs.
They’d told him to stop, but he kept doing it.
She asked if I could talk to him and make him stop it.
This seemed like an advertising problem to me.
Just telling him to stop wasn’t going to do it.
Anymore than anti drunk-driving, fire prevention, or anti-smoking ads do.
Ads that tell you the result of your behaviour will be bad.
Driving drunk and killing people is bad.
Setting fire to your house is bad.
Dying from smoking cigarettes is bad.
Yes, we understand that, but we don’t think it will happen to us.
So, instead of just telling my son not to do it, I thought there must be a better
And I waited until Saturday when my wife went out shopping.
Then I said to him “I’m going to teach you the proper way to fall
He thought this sounded both fun and naughty, two things little boys like.
I took him up to the top of our stairs.
I said “Now the most important thing is to protect your head. So put your
arms up either side of your head like this. Now roll yourself into a ball.
That way, when you fall you’ll do less damage. Have a go.”
And he fell down the stairs.
He got up and said “Ouch, that hurt.”
I said “That’s because you’re not doing it right, look: arms up, roll into a
ball. Now try again.”
He did it and fell down the stairs again.
He got up rubbing his arms and legs.
I said “You’ve nearly got it. Try it again, arms up tight around your head,
body rolled up into a tight ball.”
And he fell down the stairs again.
This time as he was getting up, my wife came back from shopping.
She said “What’s going on?”
I explained I was teaching him how to fall down stairs.
She said “Are you mad?”
I took her aside and said “Look at it this way, the school wants us to stop
him swinging on the banister. If he falls he’ll drop three floors onto
concrete steps he could break his back. But he doesn’t know that, he’s
He just thinks it will never happen.
If we wait for him to find out how much it hurts it could be too late. So
I’m doing several things here.
I’m teaching him that it’s painful, but I’m teaching him on a single-story
staircase with fitted padded carpet, so he can’t do himself too much
Also, if he does break anything, I’m here to get him straight to A&E.
And also, if he remembers to put his arms up and roll into a ball, he’ll
protect his head.
So even if he does do it at school, it will minimise the damage.”
And my wife gradually calmed down a bit.
She still wasn’t happy about it, but she could see the sense in it.
My son went off rubbing his arms, he now knew it hurt.
Later, the school told us he’d stopped swinging on the banister.
That’s how it should be in advertising.
Don’t just go with conventional wisdom.
Keep repeating the same old solution even though we know it doesn’t work.
Get upstream and change the problem.
Find a new solution, one that does work.
Taken from 'One Plus One Equals Three'
Written in Dave Trott's distinctive, almost Zen-like style, One Plus On Equals Three is a collection of provocative anecdotes and thought experiments designed to light a fire under your own creative ambitions.