In search of the obvious – The story of Obvious Adams

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” – Khalil Gibran

One of the best books that I have ever read on marketing is one that was written 97 years ago, in 1916. It’s only 40 pages long and it contains no jargon or graphs. It’s a true collector’s item.
Most people mistakenly think it’s an obsolete, outdated, irrelevant piece of light fiction. Wrong!

This story was recommended by one of the world’s preeminent marketing minds, Jay Abraham. His mail stated:  “Read this story not once, or twice.  Read it once or twice a week, for the rest of your life!” I also discovered more about this philosophy in the brilliant book by Jack Trout, ln Search of the Obvious.  

The book is titled Obvious Adams: The Story of a Successful Businessman. It’s written by Robert R. Updegraff. The book was a big success. The New York Times wrote, “The young person who is going to seek their fortune in the advertising business should have Obvious Adams for a handbook”.

Why is the story of Obvious Adams so valuable? Probably as the search for any truly effective marketing strategy is the search for the obvious. The dictionary definition of the word “obvious” is: easy to see or understand, plain, evident. With that definition you begin to see why an obvious strategy is so powerful. And why it works.

When presented with a simple, obvious strategy, many clients are not impressed. They are often looking for some clever, not-so-obvious idea.  The author warned of this when he wrote, “The trouble is the obvious is apt to be so simple and commonplace that it has no appeal to the imagination. We all like clever ideas and ingenious plans that make good lunch-table talk at the club. There is something about the obvious that is – well, so very obvious!”

Unfortunately, most advertising people look for the creative, not the obvious. To them, the obvious is too simple and never clever enough. This often leads to communication that is vague, confusing and many times difficult to understand, often leading to ineffective and wasteful marketing.

In his book Mr. Updegraff describes his “Five Tests of Obviousness”:

  • The problem when solved will be simple. The obvious is nearly always simple – so simple that sometimes a whole generation of men and women have looked at it without even seeing it.
  • Does it check with human nature? If you feel comfortable in explaining your idea or plan to your mother, wife, relative, neighbours, and anyone else you know, it’s obvious. If you don’t feel comfortable, it probably is not obvious.
  • Put it on paper. Write out your idea, plan or project in words as though you were explaining it to a child. If you can’t do this in two or three short paragraphs and the explanation becomes long, involved or ingenious – then very likely it is not obvious.
  • Does it explode in people’s minds? If, when you have presented your plan, project or programme, do people say, “Now why didn’t we think of that before?” You can feel encouraged. Obvious ideas are very apt to produce this “explosive” mental reaction.
  • Is the time ripe? Many ideas and plans are obvious in themselves, but just as obviously “out of time”. Checking time lines is often just as important as checking the idea or plan itself.

If you want to be a master of critical, strategic and divergent thinking, then there is no easier way to propel you into open-mindedness. Obvious, isn’t it!

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.” – George Orwell 

John Lloyd is a business growth strategist, award-winning marketer, speaker, trainer, columnist and author of the book Smart Thinking for Crazy Times.     

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