Manufactured fears

In 1788, the Austrian Empire was at war with the Turkish Empire.

The Austrian army consisted of 100,000 men from different countries: Czechs, Poles, French, Hungarians, Croats and Austrians, all speaking different languages.

The night before they expected to do battle, the Austrians camped near a town called Karánsebes, beside the Timis river.

They thought the Turks were on the other side of the river, so a detachment of cavalry went across to look for them.

They couldn’t find any evidence of Turks, but they did find a group of Tzigani gypsies who sold them several barrels of strong alcohol.

Then a scouting group of Austrian infantry came by.

Naturally the infantry wanted to share the alcohol.

The elite cavalry refused – they wouldn’t drink with lower-class foot soldiers.

An argument started, which became a fist fight, which escalated to swords, then someone pulled out a pistol and a shot was fired.

On the other bank, the Austrian army heard the shot and someone yelled: "Turks, we’re being attacked."

They began firing across the river at the sound of fighting.

The cavalry, fearing their camp was being attacked, rushed back to help.

They mounted their horses and charged across the river.

The Austrian troops thought this was the Turkish attack and began firing volleys at the onrushing cavalry.

In the dark, everyone yelling in different languages, the Austrian army began firing at shadows and killing each other.

Everyone believed the camp was being overrun by Turks.

Seeing the confusion and chaos, the officer in charge realised there was only one way to stop the Turks.

He ordered the artillery to open fire.

All night long, Austrians killed Austrians believing they were killing Turks.

Eventually it became obvious to the Austrians that they couldn’t win, and the entire army retreated in disorder.

Karánsebes and the area all around it were abandoned.

Well, not quite.

Two days later, the actual Turkish army did turn up – they’d been many miles away all this time.

They found up to 10,000 dead Austrian soldiers, but they couldn’t find any dead Turkish soldiers.

Because there weren’t any.

The Austrian army had managed to inflict a massive defeat on itself without any other army being anywhere near it.

Fear and over-thinking had beaten the Austrian army.

We often do that to ourselves.

We’re so frightened of what might happen that we imagine things that aren’t even happening.

Then we respond to our own fear, instead of reality.

We imagine what the client might not like about our ideas.

We imagine how consumers might misunderstand our campaign.

We manufacture things to worry about.

And we respond to those manufactured fears.

And we end up doing work that is so safe and dull that no-one notices it and the money spent is completely wasted.

We become our own worst enemy.

As Andy McNab said: "The enemy is anyone who’s going to get you killed, no matter what side they’re on." 

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

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