The Importance Of Not Knowing Things

We always respect the people who are smart enough to know what they don't know and humble enough to say so. Within reason, this candid introspection is grounding. And, when it comes to marketing and media, particularly with digital in the picture, it's easy enough to rattle off all the things it's possible not to know. Where to begin?
  • We could not know just how bad our data are
  • We could not know if our analysis gives enough clarity to arm us or falls just short enough to make us a danger to ourselves
  • We could not know enough to fully, competitively optimize our deceptively straightforward website
  • We could not know how much of our lunch the competitors are eating
  • We might not know if we should really care about click fraud
  • We could know our target but have no idea how to reach the true influencers that fuel our base
  • We could not know how much we should be spending across the new, more experimental additions to our mix
  • We might not know who is in our blind spot and how fast they are approaching



It is true that the avid among us make it our business to get to the highest possible level of "know," one way or another, over time. But, at least for me, there is pleasure in the unexpected glance at the unknown. It keeps us leaning forward. Leaning forward is positive.

Idle Smarts

Last week, I was listening to a certifiably smart person talk about social media and technology, and I had that feeling we've all had. It's that moment when we realize the drone in our ear is the same re-shaped, re-colored spiel we've heard a hundred times, just punched up by the particular personality and inflection at hand. For a minute, I was truly bored. It was nothing terrible -- just that sensation of same old song playing on. And, on. We got through it, but engagement and curiosity levels remained in neutral.

Then, a few days later, a friend sent me a promotional bit on a new book being released by a smarty-pants friend of his. I yawned as I dutifully clicked on the link. But then, caught by what seemed to be a new position, I realized when reading the bit, how interested I was in what this man had to say. There were hints that he might bring a new point of view, a whacky lens or at least a well-shaken lexicon and ability to carve out fresh conversation. Sometimes it is that glimpse of raw turf that creates a welcome sense that someone might take you into some unknown territory. To me, this moment always is more enthralling than the one that results in, "Yep. Yep. Yep."

Not Knowing Often Inspires Progress

So, over the past few days I've been thinking about a few things I consider to be lurking in the unknown that, in fact, I am quite alright having persist. This is not a long piece today, but I just wanted to share these open questions as a musing on this whole idea of knowing and mastery:

  • While intimately tuned to the consumer, does today's incarnation of social media allow for the laughing and crying of yesteryear? Does it need to?
  • Can advertising ever stand alone and deliver again?
  • In the era of accountability, will qualitative considerations remain in the shadows of the quantitative, where they seem to be now?
  • How then do we continue to explore the interplay of art and science in our marketing efforts and keep up efficiency?
  • Within today's integrated landscape, is it possible to literally reach everyone we need to reach? Tap all available demand? Harness influence for practically complete penetration?
  • What are the most informative ways to validate messaging, channel by channel? How do we assure that we are respecting the consumer's mindset across the mix and truly adapting to connect?
  • How do we align -- really -- as an overall industry on commitment to data integrity?

So, like many of us, I will continue to be attracted to and work with people who are honest enough to know what they don't know but steadfast in their quests to get flush on "the know." There is a certain importance to keeping an open field on curiosity. I've often said that mastery is overrated. It is also elusive. In many ways, within what we do, if we expect to keep up real progress -- it should be. It will always be OK to have a new and daunting something not to know.

7 comments about "The Importance Of Not Knowing Things ".
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  1. Tim Hurt from Hanley Wood, LLC, June 22, 2009 at 10:34 a.m.

    What book?

  2. Kurt Ohare from ohare & associates, June 22, 2009 at 11:33 a.m.

    "I used to have all the answers until I realized I never understood the questions." albert einstein

  3. Susan Roane from The RoAne Group, June 22, 2009 at 11:57 a.m.

    Ms Allen's well -written and thoughtful post is must reading for those who think they have all the answers.
    If we never admit to others and to ourselves that we "don't know it all", then we are never open to learning. Lifelong learning/curiosity/interest is what keeps us interesting. I will share this post with my social networks and real friends.

  4. Jay Becker from additive, June 22, 2009 at 12:19 p.m.

    Unfortunately, the broad creative world of marketing is falling into the abyss of numbers, roi, and finger pointing. For many years I lived in the financial realm, where ROI is easy to see;however, look at us today, we schucked anything truly innovative for the old worthlerss concept of buy and hold. Today investors are down 40%. What would your clients do in this situation. We need to provide what is "providable" but create, that is the real test. It is, and will always be an inexact science, or better an art form. In bad times certain types scream for more CONTROL, let's don't be fooled by their avarice.

  5. Ralph Sherman from Madison2Main, June 22, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

    We need more thinking and thinkers like Kendall. Seems like business people are somehow expected to know everything, especially once you get a "title". Truth is I've seen so many opportunities lost and careers damaged by the need to be "right". This attitude is a major reason we are not seeing faster adoption of social media programs by big brands. We need to seek understanding, not just to be understood.

  6. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, June 22, 2009 at 2:49 p.m.

    There are certainly a way to wide scope of things to know. You can barely say that you 'know' how those things could be used (the focus, objective or benefit that could offer), but the reality is that everyone don't 'know' how to do it (the process, the method, the 'hands on' or the construction, development, and control). Lets just remember that great Greek philosopher called Socrates: "I know that I know nothing".

  7. Cynthia Holladay from UpRight Marketing, June 22, 2009 at 5:50 p.m.

    The more we seek the truth, the more we realize what is unknown. Always keep "don't know mind" - - meaning "cut off from your mind any condition, any situation, any opinion. Your mind is clear like space, and clear like a mirror. Just do correct action."

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