“The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.“ – Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.
It’s true, isn’t it? It’s like science suddenly screeched up on to the sidewalk and dumped knowledge all over our front lawn like some scene out of Goodfellas with a rat squealer rolled up into a old carpet. But that’s not the case, is it? And, in this case, science is much like business… but nobody wants to act this way. We should. People in business (especially executives) want us to believe that they have all the answers and have BTDT (been there/done that).
If it’s good enough for science, it should be good enough for brands?
Let’s come at business problems with more ignorance, shall we? We don’t have all of the answers. Technology does not answer all (or any) of the real questions. If both of those statements were not true, every act of marketing that brands put into the marketplace would perform beyond our wildest expectations. So, let’s paraphrase that excellent line above from the book Sapiens, and turn it into our brand mantra:
“To revolutionize our brands, we must accept that we are ignorant. Our greatest discovery is that we don’t know the answers to the most important questions.” Great… now what?
Now comes the hard work. Like science, it becomes a process of questions… testing them vigorously and realizing that what seems like a solid hypothesis might be easily debunked next week, next month, next quarter, next year, next decade… or maybe hundreds of years later. In the early days of advertising, it became clear that if you make something sound much better than it is (… lie about it…), the sale is done, and who cares what comes post sale? That worked (but not for long). The era of television advertising brought with it the science of mass reach and repetition. It became clear that the louder your brand is, and the more times you can get that message in front of a potential consumer, the better your sales would be. That worked (and it worked for a long time). Today, that model may still work for some, but it won’t for many.
What does this means for your brand today?
- Do what everyone else is doing.
- Ask the important questions. Admit that you don’t know the answers. Experiment until you hit on something that works.
The second choice is the hard one.
If your brand is feeling stuck, it’s easy to just advertise your way out of the problem, without realizing that you’re probably just creating more problems. We do this because we fallback on our knowledge and experience. We do this because we’re afraid to admit our own ignorance (especially if there’s a team that we’re leading). We do this because we don’t want to admit that we don’t have the answers to our most important questions. Success comes from finding the answers to these questions. Success comes from trying to figure out what – exactly – the most important questions are. Here’s a promise: when you uncover these most important questions, I’ll bet that your current slew of tactics don’t really answer the call. At all.
You know what you have to do. Forget your knowledge. Embrace your ignorance. Dig for those most important questions. We’ve all got your back.