The Importance of Organizing Our Ignorance

Beekeeper Sue Hubbell writes in A Book of Bees:

" For 15 years now I have worked on such familiar terms with the bees that when I see them down the river, or listen to them at night, I know exactly what they are doing. I now can understand a little bit, though not nearly as much as I thought I did the first year I worked with them. They have forced me to realize that my senses and powers of observation are very limited.

"My city friends know well enough what I do here during the season; it may seem strange work to them, but it is undisputedly work; what I do during the slack times is harder for them to figure out: "organizing my ignorance" is perhaps as good a description as any."

Marketers have a lot in common with beekeepers; when we first start working with our market we think we know a lot more about them than we really do. The longer we engage with prospects, the better we get at figuring out how to speak to them and how to serve them, but we also realize how much we still don't know.

It's ironic, perhaps, that our increasing wisdom highlights our ignorance. But it's by exploring those places of ignorance, those little nooks and crannies where we don't know what we need to know, that we develop true deep market insight.

Organizing our ignorance

In online marketing especially, we like to think of ourselves as macho cowboys writing the great sales letter, making the great pitch, actively pursuing wealth. What's less obvious and less sexy work is the organization of our ignorance so that we may begin to close the gap between what we don't know and what we need to know in order to empathize and serve.

Simply sitting – meditating, stewing, imagining, whatever word makes us feel most OK with the inaction – with our confusion, our blankness, our unexamined assumptions, begins to allow for whole new levels of reality to emerge.

As marketers, we tend to rush in to answer those questions: to conduct a survey, to perform some market analysis, to take a wild stab or a wild guess at the answer. Doing something sure feels good; it feels like good old hard work. And hard work, we're told by our culture, makes us wealthy.

But it's a much more receptive, feminine act of simply being in the mystery that allows for the subsequent active work to be most effective.

Sitting in the Questions

So this isn't an article about how to do market research. Instead, it's an invitation to ask ourselves a series of humbling questions on a regular basis:

  • "What might not be true here?"
  • "What am I not seeing?"
  • "What else could be going on here?"

Sitting with these questions, perhaps with a journal open in front of us, or maybe a set of colorful markers and a big pad of art paper,  might be the most profitable "nonwork" that we do all year.

Deep Curiosity is More Powerful than Knowledge

Once we have a map and a feel for the fertile terrain of the dark holes in our understanding, we can then begin the process of discovery with a new clarity and reverence for the ultimate mystery that is our prospect; the ultimate mystery that is every human being we may encounter on our journey.

No matter how well we think we know a person, be it a customer, a colleague, a life partner, a child, or even ourselves, the ultimate form of respect is a recognition of the deep mystery, the unknowable within them. Marketing, in its purest and deepest form, is not about knowing everything about the inner life of our prospect. Instead, it's being willing to approach them with fresh eyes every single time, to allow for deeper connection and communion.

"Slow Down" Marketing

If you'd like to experience a balanced environment, in which active and receptive forces dance in harmony to give you powerful and deep insight into your market, please consider attending Camp Checkmate in Chicago on June 10-11, 2010. While I don't tout the two days as "Slow Down" marketing, in a way that's exactly what goes on. We slow down our own monkey minds, get curious about reality, and start making connections that will seem obvious once we've made them. 

Read about Camp Checkmate, and sign up for the free pre-Camp training series here.

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  1. #1 • Roger Stanton said on April 27 2010:

    Great information, Howie.
    I frequently talk to myself. Er, uhh, I mean ask questions of myself — just not nearly as intuitive as those mentioned in Sue's post:
    What might not be true here? What am I not seeing? What else could be going on here?
    Those questions sound much more proactive than "Why did I just do that?!?"
    Thanks for putting this together! Great info — as always.