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How U2 producer Brian Eno solves the paradox of choice (lessons for online PR)

A recent Daily Telegraph interview with legendary music producer Brian Eno contained an instructive quote about dealing with too many choices:

“In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people.”

Whereas in the past these recording choices would only have been available to a small number of well funded bands, the problem is now one faced by anyone who has played around with Apple’s Garageband software.  It is all too easy to get sidetracked into tinkering with different instrument settings and effects (how about trying a bit more phasing on that clavier?). Before you know it, hours have passed, and you haven’t actually recorded anything meaningful.

In many ways, a similar problem faces marketing and PR clients. The range of possible choice in terms of the composition of the marketing mix grows by the day. A mind blowing selection of agencies, tools and offerings that serve to make your brain fuse. Experimenting with Twitter and Facebook is similar to agonising over Pinch or Flutter Harmonics – and the million and one permutations of digital effects.

Brian Eno thus seems to belong to the same “Less is More” camp as Clay “filter failure” Shirky, Barry “Paradox of Choice” Schwartz and Richard “80/20” Koch.  You have to set up some boundaries and constraints up front to prevent getting sucked into an endless cycle of fruitless tinkering.