How Would Plato PPC? (Part II)

So we’ve already analyzed how Plato would have been as a PPC. But the oeuvre commonly attributed to Plato is so vast and deep that we can dive into many different aspects. Last time, we focused mostly on The Cave. Today, we will focus on his observations on metals.

In short, Plato argued that there are three types of people, and you need each type to make society work. The Iron or Bronze people were the laborers and soldier types, whose core mode of decision-making was emotional. The silver type people were a bit elevated and were the professionals who run things, and for the professionals, the key was to have your spirit guide you to Do The Right Thing; they are the supporting class that figures stuff out, so they are the “auxiliaries.” Then the final and highest group are the Gold, who are the rulers, and they are the ones sophisticated enough to make decisions according to reason and logic. While they are the rulers–guardians, in his terminology (translated, of course!) –it’s important they live selflessly and as such, they have no possessions of their own.

 While there are some aspects of this theory that may strike a modern reader as slightly insane–your metal and thus your future is decided when you’re still a teeny tiny little kid–this division of work is useful when approaching PPC.

Said differently, all PPC work essentially contains three different types of decisions you need to make.

The golden decisions are the decisions where logic and reason matter above all. Let’s analyze the data, and see where it leads us. Let’s use logic to figure out why this ad isn’t showing, or why that quality score is so low.

The silver decisions are those where your spirit matters above all. Do you stand up to your client and fight with him when needed? How do you avoid or deal with conflicts of interest, like competing clients?

The bronze (or iron) decisions are those where you need to sit down and Do The Hard Work to get things working. Okay, I’m going to do this keyword research, set up that campaign, design those ads. It’s in this one that you make the thousands of tiny little tactical decisions whose consequences boil up to the silver and gold levels of analysis.

This framework works at a high level and a low level. When approaching any PPC decision, it’s good to look at it from the logical, spiritual/moral, and brute-force ways of approaching it. Each has a time and place.

Many firms, indeed, separate each of these three into different roles, different jobs, different people. The CEO is the one who can analyze the logic on a high level. There are lots of worker-bees doing hard labor. And then middle-management forms the role of the silver auxiliaries.

I would argue that this is a very natural division, another approach is to ensure that everyone, at every level, has enough of each of these three levels. If someone on your team can’t think through basic logic or Modus Ponens, do you want them on your team? And when moral decisions are removed from the lowest level, wouldn’t that inevitably lead to lots of immoral decisions?

The challenge with this three-in-one approach is that it’s hard to find people who have “just enough” of each three. A moral compass is surprisingly rare. Logic is almost as rare. And you need good soldiers for the bronze team, but most soldiers aren’t “good” soldiers. Much easier is to find groups of people who can aim and shoot and that’s it, or who can apply Modus Tollens, and divide it up.

More broadly, while Plato was definitely on to something–hey, this is Plato after all, possibly the wisest non-religious body of work that is still remembered by normies today (some of the more interesting stuff is in Aramaic but how many of you guys reading this read Aramaic also?)–but I would humbly like to suggest a minor variation when applying the above to PPC. While Plato puts the logicians at the top, I’d prefer that he did so because he was a logician. Indeed, tradition holds that above the entrance to his academy were the words, in Greek, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” On the other hand, maybe gold should be in second place behind silver?

In other words, I as a guy who focuses on trying to figure out what is “good” and what is “evil” and applying that in my everyday life–a life-focusing question with sophisticated levels of analyses that bring you to dark places often, a question that is infinitely harder than the 18-year-old nerdy version of myself thought it was–I’d put the silver spiritual issues at the top, above the logic. At its simplest level: Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarian’s (wow now that’s a great band name!) take us to “logical” conclusions that almost all of us would find untenable. You’d pull the lever on the train-track? Really? (RIP Matt who first asked me that question 20 years ago!)

Or on the other hand, perhaps this is merely a joke Plato played on all of us. Perhaps Plato knew that spiritual issues need to rule the day–much of his oeuvre does imply that–and he put them in second place to see who were the schmucks who didn’t think through what he was saying. I could see Plato, hanging out in Heaven with God, having a good laugh–like his mouthpieces did in the Symposium–that few saw through the ridiculousness to figure out what he was saying. As Orwell reminds us, it is shockingly difficult to see what is right in front of your nose.

In conclusion: my conclusion from Part I stands, but with a variation: Plato would probably be a terrible PPC, but he would be good at stepping back and thinking about the meta-issues related to our PPC work. Perhaps he’s an advisor to the PPC, not the PPC himself.

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