Do You Know What You Think You Know?

Last week, I was talking with a frustrated client. She had spent two weeks preparing a business case for a new strategic content initiative and another week booking meetings with all her colleagues across the business to socialize the plan. In all but one of the meetings, her colleagues stopped her near the beginning of her talk and said something to the effect of “Wait, can we back up here? I thought I knew how your team worked, but I’m afraid I don’t have a clue. Can you explain that to me.”

She couldn’t.

Sometimes I wonder how any of us gets through the day knowing as little as we do about things we think we know. Just spend some time with a child. It won’t take you long to find yourself stumped by a simple question. Or scan through your Facebook feed. It won’t take you long to come across an untoward political opinion or some other kind of post that cries out for rebuttal – a post that you’d like to respond to with an okay-let-me-just-sit-you-down comment – only to discover that you have no earthly idea how to explain yourself.

Want some examples? Write out how a zipper works. Define the word “the.” Explain why we say “I love the theater” but not “I love the cable TV.” Explain how tides work. You probably know that the moon pulls the oceans toward it, but do you know why are there high tides on the other side of the planet at the same time?  (Fun fact: The moon is pulling the earth as well.)

When we discover that we can’t explain a simple thing that we think we should be able to, we may blame it on our memory. We tell ourselves, “I used to understand that.” In fact, we probably never did. Our brain has tricked us into thinking we know more than we do.

Scientists have a term for this concept: the Illusion of Explanatory Depth.

This is something that we need to be aware of as content practitioners rolling out new initiatives, ideas, and concepts to our colleagues. These new concepts, technologies, channels, and strategies are new to both us and our teammates. As marketers, we may believe that we know how things work. Just the other day, my wife asked me to explain how targeted advertising worked. I fumbled and mumbled and struggled to explain it clearly. She finally gave me the merciful verbal guillotine and said, “Yeah, honey, I don’t need to know that badly.”

Being able to explain what we do is important – not just for our significant others but for our bosses, our colleagues, and our customers. To win both battles and wars, we need to put things in simple language and make what we “know” clear.

My client went back and added a bit to her strategic initiative just to remind everyone exactly what her team does. Creating that explanation for others opened her eyes as well. She told me, Now I know what I thought I knew. It was an important thing for me to get to know. You know?

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.