The Principle of Creative Redundancy—Making the Most of Unnecessary Employees and Other Applications

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Lugging bags of groceries while wending my way along a forested path running past cottages, I saw a “For Sale” sign, in front of one of them, that initially seemed quite ordinary: “Priced to Sell”, it trumpeted softly. I walked on.

But then I did a double-take and it hit me:  the “principle of creative redundancy” suddenly dawned on me (apparently only after it has occurred to others, but with a different spin)—a principle with, as will become clear, rich implications for the sourcing, placement and retention of employees and their talents.

“Priced to Sell”? What’s That?

“Priced to Sell” exemplifies the principle perfectly, in that, despite its obvious redundancy, it can, through a rather creative use of language, catalyze action and success. What makes it redundant? It is redundant because what else would a home be priced at or for? “Priced to Gouge”? “Priced to Tease”? “Priced to Flaunt”?

The only non-ridiculous alternatives to “sell” are incompatible goals such as “rent”, “lease” or “time share”. But given that selling the property is the aim, “priced to sell” is hugely redundant. (At best, it is only semi-redundant, to the extent that it informatively implies the pricing is not above market value—but then isn’t that what all “for sale” signs imply, especially when they succeed?)

For more examples from and applications of the Principle of Creative Redundancy in the real estate market, there’s “Sunshine Coast Realtor Double-Talk Explained”, by Menno van Driel—“Not a Drive-By” and “Easy to Show” being two such common redundancies reported and analyzed in that article.

The Principle of Creative Redundancy: Definition and Variations

That said, the stage is set for the formulation and application of the principle. My version of the “Principle of Creative Redundancy” is this: “Utilization of redundancies can generate opportunities, benefits and success when implemented with creative imagination.”

Other versions of the concept that I subsequently discovered tend to emphasis distinct repetitions of one message, e.g., repeated prayers (to ensure one’s wishes are heard) rather than self-contained single redundant ideas, messages, employees, departments, etc.

One utterly fascinating variant  and application of the principle of creative redundancy is the subliminal use of multiple, mutually reinforcing and related subliminal images and other perceptions to control—now get this—the creative process itself. A video, posted (with a redirect to Youtube) at thepeoplebrand.com, is offered as a case study and response to the question, “How can I be better at embedding messages superfluously?”

Not the simple repetition of prayers, this subliminal application is more “organic”, synthesizing complementary, overlapping and therefore similar messages to manipulate the ideas of manipulative advertising creative writers themselves. (Even if the apparently serious video by Derren Brown,  celebrity U.K. illusionist,  were a spoof or staged, it would perfectly illustrate this alternative interpretation and application of “creative redundancy”.)

Anyway that’s my definition. Now for applications in employment and the workplace.

The Principle of Creative Redundancy: the Case of the Redundant Juggler

Consider this very simple employment model: a circus. A certain Romanian circus has three jugglers, but because attendance has fallen off, the owner can no longer afford to keep and pay all three. At least one, maybe even two have to be let go. They are equally gifted jugglers, so the decision as to who gets the ax is not easy for the circus owner.

THE JUGGLER by Pavel Tchelitchew, 1931

But suddenly, in his mind, the principle of creative redundancy kicks in: Why not create one fantastic act with three jugglers instead of sacking one or two, to form a new unit capable of performing complex, integrated stunts and acts that no single juggler ever could?

Not only could this draw the crowds back into lines, but also attract bigger crowds with bigger revenues that could easily cover the original individual  juggler salaries, while boosting the take at the gate.

Given that the jugglers’ salaries as an expense represent a “fixed cost”, rather than a “variable cost”, this is an easily imagined outcome. From the standpoint of the other circus acts, the jugglers can become essential to protecting the clowns and lion tamers from job (but not lion-claw) cuts.

Bingo! The redundant, superfluous employee has become, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Xmas Eve, a star and an essential revenue-generator and job protector.

Creative Redundancy in Recruiter Advertising

Now, apply the same principle in the office: “Jobs waiting to be filled!” On a first take, this sounds informative. But how is it different from “Jobs to be filled!”? Not only is the addition of “waiting” way too anthropomorphic, in making jobs sound like eager people; it is also redundant, in that it otherwise merely denotes, as waiting always does, a gap between a target expectation and the reality of its fulfillment—i.e., “waiting” specifically in this instance, indicates that the job, advertised as open, is still open. But that’s what “jobs to be filled” by itself says.

Adding “waiting” adds nothing—except a bogus suggestion that somehow job applicants are going to connect in a very personal way with the job, the recruiter and the company.

Such an ad suggests that the job is like the mythical drop-dead gorgeous blonde Ukrainian veterinarian who intensely loves children, Tolstoy and walks along moonlit beaches almost as much as the last guy to read her profile—from whom she is “waiting” to hear at ukrainianveterinarianlovelinks.com

(Note: don’t go there. It’s a URL I made up as an illustration. Instead, go to the local pound and adopt a sick puppy. Then look for the Ukrainian vet in the Yellow Pages.)

How Apple Uses the Principle of Creative Redundancy

Recruiting advertising aside, there are also “redundant juggler” opportunities to be mined in j interviewing candidates—after the ad has lured them. For example, when Apple recruits, it always gets a huge applicant response, and parlays that into applicant group orientation, group validation (through warm welcomes for the group), group job pitches and what amount to Apple product testing/review/promotion sessions (since the invited candidates are given iPads to use during these sessions).

Of course redundancy is built into the process, even though the screening steps are designed to funnel and weed applicants until the “best” are hired. How’s that?

What makes many of the applicants redundant is the fundamental logic of hiring: Although the question of which candidate(s) will get the job(s) is not answered at the outset, the fact that not all will be hired is a certainty even before the resumes are sorted. The creative challenge is to capitalize on that inescapable redundancy  of job-seekers for the purpose of utilizing the redundant applicants and candidates rather than to merely eliminate them.

In effect, that’s what Apple does: By gathering large numbers of candidates together, in full view of and interacting with not only each other, but with Apple staff and Apple products that are on hand, Apple is creatively exploiting the natural, inescapable redundancies in hiring (given there is more than one applicant per job). The payoffs?

  • Reinforcement of Apple’s image as unique, big, innovative and creative by staging “redundant juggler” mass interviewing and orientation sessions packed with hopeful applicant jugglers
  • Data mining of the candidate pool, e.g., for the purpose of gathering candidate-consumer product feedback and design ideas
  • Real-time interview-based marketing to a captive, committed audience (of candidates) psychologically predisposed, if not subtly pressured, to display enthusiasm and loyalty to Apple and its products
  • Paradoxical blending of candidate cooperation and competition (Like penguins crowding onto an ice floe, the candidates experience safety in numbers (group strength), while hoping not to be among those frozen and squeezed out—booted back into the (predator-infested) icy sea of the floundering jobless (individual competition)).

These kinds of considerations should suffice to make the case for using creative redundancy yourself. But, if you need it spelled out even more clearly, all I can say is that anything I might add would be, at this point, redundant….

….although, of course, also highly creative.

 

 

Image 1: CREATIVE REDUNDANCY: ‘PRICED TO SELL’/Image: Michael Moffa

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).