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Why I have an ‘extreme’ alter-ego

Much of what Tara wrote in her recent post ‘Missing the point’ resonates with me too.

A couple of months back, someone asked me why I’m such an extremist. Surely, everything traditional marketing can’t be bad. Why not be a big more moderate.

I replied, I’m an extremist because someone has to swing the pendulum over. Here is a diagram to illustrate what I mean:

(click to see the full size image)

The reason I sometimes find myself taking (/being seen to take) an ‘extreme perspective’ is often to counter-act equally extreme conservatism on the other side.

Except that ‘extreme conservatism’ is generally considered to be an oxymoron.  It appears it’s only those of us wanting to be a catalyst for change can be considered ‘extreme’.

Sometimes an ‘extreme’ goal is an achievable one, and it’s worth going out on a limb to get it.  You start off with your out-there position and push and push and chip and chip until something happens.

But there are also times when I know what I am wanting is just not going to happen, but I know that if I ‘shoot for the stars, I might just reach the moon’.  I know that I’d be happy to compromise somewhere in the middle for the sake of realising some change albeit not what I originally wanted.  But push the extreme as hard as I can to get the middle-ground closer to where I want to ultimately arrive.

I had to do that a lot at the BBC, both in BBC News and also whilst working on of course.  The BBC is definitely a place where great clumps of conservatism litter an otherwise cutting-edge landscape. (or is it the other way around?)

The trick was to establish a credibility before going AWOL from the plan.  And even when I did go AWOL for some it wasn’t AWOL enough – but the story of black-ops projects is another story for another time… perhaps.

Back to this blog post… I know that this modus operandi combined with my dotBen ‘let’s kick the shit up’ gadfly approach rubs people like Tom Coates up the wrong way.  I have a lot of respect for Tom – I don’t get on with him (and hey, I’m sure the feeling’s mutual), but I’m the first to admit he knows what he’s talking about (my guess is that the feeling isn’t mutual on that one!).

However his methods are different but we’re trying to arrive at the same goal.  Some might say he’s taking the traditional approach based on academic reasoning and I’m just being, well, a shit stirrer.

But actually this is no different to what Socrates did when he interacted with the Athenian politician scene.  And it was Plato who coined the phrase ‘gadfly’ when writing about this very relationship.

So, there is a method in my madness somewhere.  Ian Betteridge may not get the whole alter-ego thing and decide to mock it – but he is denying a very fundamental psychological proposition that the Internet has thrived on – that of the avatar.  Again, another post for another time on that one.

dotBen is/was a thinly veiled disguise to allow me to be extreme whilst protect my original professional standing.  But it hasn’t worked as well as I thought – for a start it got put into the limelight at a certain LesBlogs conference.  Since then slowly the two have merged into one.

I guess I’m not schizophrenic after all.

As I leave the corporate world behind me, I find myself working out what my single identity is.  Am I going to go out on a limb or am I going to play it safe be like (almost) everyone else?

C’mon – you know the answer to that already.  I’m going to continue to mother-fuck the status quo.

Not in a reckless way, and not just if it’s ‘for show’.  But in the many examples where taking the extremist view – like Tara – will actually create the desired outcome.

We’re not all loonies really.  Oh yeah, and Nelson Mandela eventually became South Africa’s president.  Go figure.

Published in Citizen Agency Thoughts and Rants


  1. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    — George Bernard Shaw

  2. Hugh MacLeod Hugh MacLeod

    Mena did you a big favor at LesBlogs. Forced you to make choices.

  3. I worked closely with Tom Coates at the BBC for a number of years. I can confirm that he is quite the shit stirrer against the forces of conservatism.

  4. Yeah, er, thanks (!?) Matt. Ben – I think my old manager would find your characterisation of me as traditional and conservative kind of ridiculous, but that’s another story. I get as frustrated as anyone by the lack of progress in these organisations, but I think that the way to fight these things is to work out the right approach and then fight diligently and work hard to achieve it, being as stubborn as you have to be to get things done. I don’t actually think constructing totally absurd radical positions or saying things just to rile people is really an appropriate way to get anything constructive done in the world at all.

    I don’t think of this as radicalism, because radicalism implies committment and committment implies work. The loud shouting stuff you put so much faith into just ends up looking like an adolescent move to get attention and seem cool with your friends around the back of the bike shed. In the end, it undermines your position as much as it helps you communicate it.

    If you want to change the world dramatically and for the better, I can’t promise that I know the way, but I can tell you what I believe – that not accepting the status quo but fighting it with the best ideas not rhetoric is a good start. And that accepting when those ideas aren’t going to work and learning from your errors is the only way to proceed to actually make real the changes you think should be made in the world. It’s also an honourable way to operate.

  5. And also, are you really comparing yourself to Nelson Mandela and Socrates?

  6. Actually, one more thing. I sort of think you’ve missed the point of Tara’s post. If you believe in something, then you should fight for it and argue for it – because it is right and good. There are different tactics that you employ to get to the right position that you believe in, of course. All of this I agree with incredibly strongly. I have no desire to water down any position whatsoever.

    But your dotBen persona doesn’t seem to be about getting these things done, it seems to be about being confrontational and challenging whatever the effect on getting things done. I would argue that you choose to argue extreme positions rather than fighting for right positions. What you’ve said above seems to be more about presenting positions that are equally wrong to the conservative ones in an attempt to balance things around truth. I don’t understand that approach at all.

  7. Hugh MacLeod Hugh MacLeod

    Tom, I don’t think Ben was comparing himself to Mandela or Socrates. I took it more to mean that he had been inspired by their examples. Sort of like me with Reagan and Thatcher 😉

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