EMBRACING CONFUSION – TRUST THE PROCESS
My wife and I are currently spending time in Pensacola, Florida, on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. The sun is hot, even though it’s winter. The sands are white. And, while the sea is majestic, it can be quite treacherous at this time of year.
When we walk along the beach following dinner, I contemplate taking a dip and swimming to the pier, which is about a mile from our condo. However, I’m not confident in my swimming skills. Nor am I comfortable dealing with the tides and what might be swimming beneath me or anything else that might go bump in the night.
The U.S. Navy Seals are comfortable with being uncomfortable. They welcome discomfort. Their thinking is that if they’re uncomfortable, then the enemy is more so, which gives the Seals an edge in any encounter. Very few people are comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Confusion, arising from ambiguity and complexity, makes marketers and their management uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. I am, however, comfortable with confusion. I recognize from experience that it is present in all problems and opportunities dealing with brand building.
So, I anticipate and welcome confusion, draping it around me like a cloak to deal with the swirl of uncertainty. I know that when I undertake a disciplined, quality process, the more my confusion will melt away and reveal the light, just as the sun above the Gulf burns through the morning fog to show its face and penetrate with its heat.
If we don’t embrace the confusion and deal with it, it will deal with us. It can lead to procrastination, particularly for those critical, non-urgent issues, driving us to deal with those urgent, non-critical tasks that promote busyness but not progress. It will cause us to abandon a thorough exploration to address the issue regardless of whether it is a problem, goal or opportunity. It will force us to accept the first, executional expedient solution that has consensus, which is rarely the optimal, no less correct, response. Finally, it will contribute to promoting group-think as there is comfort in numbers when dealing with ambiguity, regardless of whether the decisions are sound.
The best way to address confusion is to trust in the process and your experience with it. It works for me. The process consists of:
- Clearly defining the problem, goals, and opportunities – It is essential that we surface and address the right issues.
- Establishing objectives and criteria for assessing outputs – Determine what you need to achieve and how you will assess proposed ideas.
- Generating a plethora of ideas – It’s about taking many shots on goal. Assuming we have identified the correct issues then the more shots we take on addressing them, the better the opportunity to score with a correct solution.
- Assessing the ideas against your criteria, and ability to achieve your objectives – We can’t do everything. We need to use the criteria we establish to help winnow from the many to the few.
- Testing those that merit further investigation with target-customers (or appropriate constituency) – Just because we think something, doesn’t make it so. Moreover, since we are going to devote resources to overcome a problem or exploit an opportunity, it’s imperative that we use our resources in a fiscally responsible way. Don’t gamble that you have the correct solution.
- Adapting as appropriate based upon learning to iterate your way to success – Testing provides essential feedback. It reflects the voice of the customer. The purpose of testing is not merely to determine pass or fail, but what we can learn to make whatever we decide to do more productive.
Trust your experience too. Not blind trust that you have the correct answer. But, instead, trust based on your experience in coming through the fog of confusion when trusting in and following the process.