“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”. Stephen Hawking
“Nobody knows nothing”. William Goldman
One of my central tenets of Stratecution is to “remain stupid”. When I wrote this, lots of people asked if I really meant it – should people really strive to be “stupid?” Didn’t I mean “remain curious”, or “be open-minded?” Well, I wasn’t just being cheeky – there’s a reason I said it this way. It focuses on the fact that we have to recognize we don’t “know” very much. And it puts a bold emphasis on the need to be hungry for new information, for better ways. For learning.
The idea of remaining “stupid” is related to the concept of being a “learner” vs. being a “knower”. If you remain stupid, then you can’t be a “knower”. Knowers (and knower cultures) seek certainty, and they base their self-esteem on being right. A learner understands that they can’t possibly know all they need to know and actively seeks new ideas and concepts contrary to their own to fill this learning gap. Because a knower has to be “right”, they never make mistakes – it’s always someone else’s fault – whereas a learner sees mistakes as a natural part of learning.
We had a great example of taking a learner’s approach during the development and execution of a Direct Mail program for Porsche. We developed a lead generation mailing utilizing an incentive offer to elicit leads. We modeled our efforts on a previously successful program, generated our projected lead total from that effort, and were fairly confident in our estimates. However, within a day or two of the first of three mailings reaching homes, we noticed something was wrong – the results were significantly worse than planned. Rather than finger-pointing or developing excuses, we dug in to figure out what was different this time. We discovered that the offer was unintentionally down-played and the call-to-action not clear enough. By quickly optimizing them for mailings 2 and 3, we drove results back to our original projections.
Thus, while the knower’s fear of failure is a dead-end for innovation and creativity, the learner, and the person who “remains stupid”, admits he doesn’t know everything and is always open to approaches different or contrary to the way they’ve been done before. They’re focused on outcomes and accountability, not on whether they look uninformed, ignorant or “stupid”. In this way, mistakes and failures are simply inspiration to a learner, not labels to avoid.
I once worked at a “knower” culture. The organization would focus on what they “knew” wouldn’t work. They knocked down ideas with “we tried that”, “that can’t work” and “the lawyers would never allow that”. And the leadership never said three important words – “I don’t know”. So everyone was afraid to try things, to acknowledge ignorance, and to say “let’s figure it out”.
The thing is, in this time of great change and flux in marketing, knowledge gained in one situation won’t necessarily help you in another. You need to be open to be influenced by new information. That’s why knowers have difficulty adapting to change, while learners readily adapt – and become stronger. It’s their willingness to “remain stupid”.