“I don’t know anything”

By | April 17, 2010

I just read the greatest commentary. Written by Alex Bogusky, co-chairman at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a Denver-based advertising and marketing firm, he opened by saying, “Let me start out by saying that I know nothing about media.” Considering that he was writing in Media magazine on the topic of the future of media, it was a bold thing to say. He then went on to say that one of his great sources of pride is a t-shirt he created on which is printed, “I don’t even know what I don’t know.”

Click here to read the article.

Bogusky then made a powerful point about some of the hottest media trends today — there are no experts. For example, in social media:

Where did all these social media experts come from so quickly? What makes somebody a social media expert, anyway? And finally, why on earth would anyone want to be an expert? Expertise seems to require experience and the ability to use that expertise seems to require that the future closely resemble the past.  . . . I highly doubt the media future is going to closely resemble media’s past.

At that point, I was cheering. In some things, you can be an expert. Things that relate to numbers and equations — things that are predictable and finite. But when it comes to marketing and media, which are certainly neither of those, we’re really acting on educated speculation. Things are changing so quickly. While certain types of campaigns in specific verticals with well-defined parameters might be fairly predictable, just about anything can derail them. I wouldn’t want to make a living out of predictions.

Sure, testing can help. Done consistently and well, it creates some level of predictability, but only as long as all of the parameters are finite and stay exactly the same. Which rarely happens.

This leads me to another quote from Bogusky. He talks about a book he read called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. The book was about wilderness survival, and why certain people survive catastrophes and others do not. Although it’s a wilderness survival book, he took away an important business lesson.

[The author] found some fundamental differences in survivors. The first being that survivors more quickly realized and accepted that they were lost. It seems that people who continued to think they “knew” where they were and stuck to the “plan” died more often than the folks who recognized that the rules had changed and that their old beliefs were useless.. . Another quality of survivors is that they don’t look for safety in the emotional security of where they found safety in the past.

He then applied this concepts to the new frontiers of media.

Let me paraphrase liberally. We have no idea where we are. We shouldn’t pretend we are experts. Instead, we should be focusing on asking questions, learning, and staying untethered to the past so we can react and adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment.

From a printing industry perspective, we should not be relying on “experts.” Webinars titled, “How to make money using social media” or “How to succeed with QR codes,” for example, should be re-titled “How I made money using social media last week” or “How I succeed with QR codes yesterday,” because that’s really what they are. We need to learn from others’ experiences and tuck away the lessons in our mental archive, but we also need to keep them in perspective. Everybody is in a continual learning curve these days.

To thrive in this environment requires a self-generated source of curiosity, a desire to experiment, to test, and to push the envelope. Printers, especially those labeling themselves “marketing services providers,” need to be doing their own research and generating their own understanding of how these media and emerging applications fit into the larger marketing landscape and what seems to make them tick. Then be willing to change their opinion son a dime.

You can learn from others, but when it comes down to it, the client’s eyes are going to be on you. You may not be able to predict the future with absolute accuracy, but you can be prepared to justify the decisions you make.

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One thought on ““I don’t know anything”

  1. Chuck

    Heidi, this is absolutely great! Thanks for posting this.

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