Lateral Logic

December 10, 2019

I was late for the meeting and as I walked in I mentioned that there was terrible traffic on the 401.  Everyone nodded and agreed.  I didn’t mention that I went no where near the 401 on my way.

This is a great example of lateral logic.  A technique now being used profusely by politicians in the US Impeachment Hearings.

The technique works like this – a question is answered by stating a clear truthful fact that the listener interprets as an answer whether it is actually related to the question at all.  You suggest cause and effect, even if it is not really there.

We hear it all the time – when the stock market twitches, there is talk of an oil refinery shutting down somewhere.  Really?  What is more likely creating the impact are a series of many decisions regarding a whole raft of stocks, portfolios and personal needs, not a single factor.  But we want to feel like there was a simple reason; it is easier to understand.

I recall when my young son was small and we were driving on the highway.  A truck passed us.  He asked “Why is the truck going faster than us?” I explained that it had more wheels.  He could see that and count them so it was a satisfactory answer even though one thing had nothing to do with the other.

We used this kind of faulty explanation in advertising as well.  To prove that Mavesa Mayonnaise tasted better, we explained it tasted better because it was thicker and did a test against the competitor using spoons in a jar.  The Mavesa spoon stayed erect but the competitor (a thinly disguised Kraft) drooped over.  This skyrocketed Mavesa from #5 in the market to #2 within a year.  It was one of my favourite and most successful campaigns to work on.

But where’s the logic?  Its simplicity and how easily it demonstrates a product difference made Mavesa Mayonnaise seem superior to most consumers.  Does it demonstrate taste?  It can be rationalized.  But taste superiority is a subjective thing and not as easily or visually demonstrated.

Often clear statements with tenuous connections to an issue seem to make sense.  If we spend the time to think about them and parse the logic, they don’t.  Most people do not parse the logic.

When Mike Pompeo was asked about the Ukraine telephone call, he said he hadn’t read the report.  A true answer.  Later the truth came out that he had participated in the call, so his response was from the school of lateral logic.  He didn’t lie or tell the truth.

These kinds of responses should be carefully examined because often they are true but do not answer the question.  They have a lot of wheels, but no traction.

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