I don't know much but I tell you what I do know, the greatest things I've accomplished in my career were primarily a result of calibrating my perspective -- the way I saw the world. I remember it being the dead of night, fall of 2011, and I was staring at the ceiling of my NYC apartment experiencing what I now refer to as my ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment. I was a newly hired executive at Translation advertising, where I ran the social media marketing practice. At that moment, however, I realized I knew nothing about ‘social,’ despite my past experiences working in digital and social with huge brands like Apple, Beyoncé, Microsoft, and the alike. Perhaps knowing nothing is a bit hyperbolic, but at the time it certainly felt that way. A more accurate statement would probably be that my understanding of ‘social’ was grossly incomplete. Until that fateful night, I thought about social media as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Foursquare, and all the other fast-growing platforms of the time. I held a technology-centric perspective on this phenomenon, and evangelized its benefits to clients and teammates alike. But something became irreversibly clear to me. ‘Social,’ by definition, is all about people. Much like social work, social welfare, and social justice are focused on people, social media is all about people.
I laid awake that night feeling like a fraud. I was hired to be a thought leader in social media marketing, tasked with the responsibility of building a social media practice to serve clients like State Farm, McDonald’s, and Anheuser-Busch. Yet, I realized in that moment that I knew nothing about ‘social,’ because I knew nothing about people. I had no understanding about human behavior — why people do what they do. My knowledge of human cognitions did not extend much further than the term ‘freudian slip.’ I felt equal parts illuminated by this new epiphany, and terrified by the fear of being found out. I decided to lean into this revelation. In the days and weeks following, I began investing myself in the social sciences to learn about people. I started with Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, and I could not stop reading. I found its exploration to be nothing short of fascinating. In it, Ariely proves that the cognitive biases which sway human behavior are so strong that they are partially predictable, despite how illogical they might be. I read the book twice and, in my second pass, I highlighted the research which I thought was most interesting. More importantly, I noted the researchers who were referenced, and whose work I began to read shortly thereafter. Ariely led me to Kahneman, and Kahneman led me to Loewenstein. I detoured to McLuhan and then turned to Berger, who led me to Watts and Thaler, and soon after to Asch and Milgram. My curiosity was insatiable and, as a result, I read broadly and deeply. After about a year of discovery, the research started to became self-referential. And then something amazing happen. This research grounding began to manifest in my own work. As I applied theories from the social sciences to my work, the better the outcomes were. This was evidenced in my work launching the Cliff Paul campaign for State Farm and the Brooklyn Nets’ “Hello Brooklyn” campaign when the team moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, for example. This was all a result of a perspective shift.
As you develop new skills and learn new tools, I urge you to develop a new set of lens, a new perspective. Widening our aperture, if only just a little, will not only make us all better marketers, better business people, but -- most importantly -- better human beings.