Mutiny over the Bounty: Why it’s not a good idea to make decisions by popularity contest

The big controversy of the week is Mars’ decision to take bounties out of the Celebration variety tins and increase the numbers of other sweets.  It could have been worse.  They could have taken out one of the truly great sweets in the selection, the Malteser, the Galaxy (solid chocolate option not the caramel filling one) or they could have introduced something truly unpleasant like a Hershey’s bar.  It could have been better though.  Why on earth didn’t they opt to remove the snickers option. There’s nothing more frustrating, or unpleasant than that these are the only options left It’s also a far too common experience.

Now, it’s worth putting in a few disclaimers and clarifications here.  Mars are not completely getting rid of the Bounty option, yet.  Instead, they are offering a limited edition, bounty free option in certain shops. You’ll still be able to get your hands on tins with them in and if the worst comes to the worst, you can always go into a newsagent a buy a couple of the correct sized bars to enjoy.

I suspect that this is a little bit of a marketing ploy.  They know full well that “how do you rank the sweets in a selection box?” is one of those longstanding hot potatoes likely to cause heated family debates.  And the reality is that different people have different tastes. Open a tin of Quality Street and you’ll get some people routing around for the green triangles and others for the strawberry creams.  There also always tends to be a pecking order with some highly prized and others left till last.  In Quality Street it tended to be the toffee fingers and toffee pennies.  In the box of Celebrations it is probably fair to say that Maltesers, Galaxy and Twix tend generally to rank highly whilst the relegation battle is between bounties, milky ways and snickers. That’s not to say that you won’t find people who generally hate the mot popular ones and love the least favourites. 

Oh, and then there are the unfussy people. The ones that are just there for the sugar and chocolatey goodness.  They have standards of course, they still won’t bite into a Hershy but they’ll put up with the less popular fillings.  They are happy that there are some less popular options because they can wait until everyone else has picked out their favourite and then hoover up the unwanted ones.

So, what the confectioners have done is created an artificial controversy which the newspapers will write about and you and I will debate on Twitter and that will give them a lot of free publicity. So in the interest of balance and fairness I should mention that other acceptable options are out there if you are looking for a Christmas selection tin … and there are also Cadbury’s Roses!

Now, there are a few observations we could make from the controversy.  I’m sure some youth workers will be planning a topical study this weekend on 1 Corinthians 12 and how each of us is part of the body and have a part to play whether or not we are a Malteser or a Snickers. 

However, what I wanted to highlight was the risk of making decisions based on popularity contests.  You see, I think Mars have based their decision on faulty logic/analysis. To be sure, you can rank order the sweets from lowest to highest but that doesn’t mean that some sweets are acceptable and some are not.  There isn’t actually a groundswell of public opinion crying out for the removal of one sweet. There isn’t even a slim majority for such a decision.  People were not going to stop buying Celebrations this Christmas because they were less keen on one chocolate.  Indeed, I’m not sure that Mars need extra publicity to get people to buy tubs of sweets in the run up to Christmas.

Here’s point number one. Just because you can get people to rank order their preferences does not mean that they support a direction of travel or that they feel passionately about it. For example, we were once looking at options to give space for growth in one of our congregations. We shared three options with the church: move the congregation off site to a school theatre, plant another congregation or begin a building project.  Well, we could get people to identify their preferences from the list but actually most people at that time could not see the need for change and actually wanted us to do nothing.

In another example, one of the biggest decisions the UK has made in the last decade was to leave the EU. The vote was tight but there was a small majority for Brexit.  However, does that mean that people were passionately clamouring to leave? I don’t think so.  Nor, incidentally do I think that everyone in the 48% was devastated when the vote was lost.  The closeness of the vote reflected individual’s internal processing. Many of us arrived at the polling station on the day still making our minds up.  Not only that, but the reality is that most of us didn’t ask for a vote on EU membership, didn’t desperately want it, wouldn’t have minded if it hadn’t happened. However, when we were asked for our preference we gave it.

In church life, there are a number of models used to make decisions and some of them include involving church members.  I personally believe that big decisions should involve the whole church family in some way.  However, I am not convinced that making every decision by a vote/ballot is the most helpful way to do that.  There are two reasons for this. First, because I’m not convinced, as indicated above that polls and ballots are always the best way of measuring the true mood of a group of people.  Qualitative feedback where you talk to people and get them to express their views verbally or in writing is in my opinion much better.

Most importantly, when we are seeking to discern what to do as a church, we are not trying to work out what is the most popular decision. You see, we don’t want to be simply doing what people want to do. The question we are trying to answer is “What is the Lord’s will on this?”  We are seeking to discern his priorities for us.  Now, the Holy Spirit can use a vote, just as he used the drawing of lots in the New Testament but I suspect that this isn’t the normal way of things.  Better to be encouraging people to pray, listen, think, weigh and then to share.

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