Machines can replace creativity

A view from Dave Trott: Machines can replace creativity

In 1891, Herbert Henry Dow invented the Dow process.

In 1891, Herbert Henry Dow invented the Dow process.

This was a method of using electrolysis to extract bromine more cheaply.

In those days, bromine was big business.

It was used in: medicines, disinfectant, dyes, photographic film, fertiliser, water purification, fire-retardant and pesticides.

A German government-controlled cartel, Bromkonvention, had a monopoly on the sale and production of bromine.

But Dow’s new process allowed him to extract and sell bromine for less.

The cartel was selling it for 49 cents per pound.

Dow began selling it at 36 cents per pound.

The cartel warned him to stop, but he continued.

So, in 1904, the cartel began "dumping" bromine in the US.

This is a practice whereby the largest producer sells the product below cost, to take all the smaller competitor’s customers.

Being the largest, they can afford to do this but the smaller competitor can’t.

The cartel began selling bromine at just 15 cents per pound in America.

Sales were huge, but something strange began happening.

Their own sales in Europe began to fall.

Someone was selling bromine more cheaply at home.

Bromkonvention were selling more than they thought possible in America.

But their sales were down in Europe because someone was undercutting them on price.

It took them a long time, but finally they twigged what was happening.

Dow couldn’t match their low price in the US, but he didn’t need to.

He just bought up every pound of bromine they were selling at the below-cost price and shipped it back to Europe.

Where he relabelled it and undercut the price the cartel was selling bromine at.

Because they were still selling at 49 cents per pound in Europe, but selling at 15 cents per pound in America.

Dow would simply buy everything at 15 cents per pound, then export it back to Europe where he would sell it at 27 cents per pound.

Of course, everyone bought bromine at the cheaper price.

The cartel was losing 24 cents on every pound while Dow was making 12 cents on every pound.

And the cartel was effectively financing him.

Eventually the cartel gave in, and Dow was free to carry on selling his bromine in America at his original price of 36 cents per pound.

He had used their own tactics against them.

While they were "dumping" bromine in America, he took hundreds of thousands of pounds of their bromine back to Europe and began "dumping" it there.

Dow set up the game so that either way, whatever move they made, he won.

Today, the company Herbert Henry Dow started is the second-largest chemical manufacturing company in the world.

It has 54,000 employees in 160 countries and annual sales of $57bn.

That’s real creativity, refusing to be bound by the same conventions as everyone else.

Not being intimidated by accepted wisdom, however established.

That is the sort of creativity we don’t see much in our business any more.

Now we see a standard brief for a standard solution for a standard piece of content in a standard media space.

No wonder we think AI will end up doing our job.

We don’t think we need any creative thinking.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

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