The value of not knowing (or Ignorance creates courage)

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When I started WiderFunnel, I wasn’t an industry “insider.” I wasn’t involved in the search marketing or user experience industries. I didn’t go to conferences or talk to experts. I didn’t have advisors or mentors to show me the ropes (or talk me out of my plans.) I didn’t have a prominent reputation to rely on.

I didn’t know all the reasons that WiderFunnel had no chance to succeed.

I simply believed two things: 1. I could improve most websites agencies were building and 2. I had nothing to lose by testing to prove it.

The problem with a lot of companies (including most agencies) is that they have too much to lose and they have too much knowledge of barriers. They have existing turf and reputation to protect.

I worked at big agencies and felt that they’d never truly support conversion optimization. Their clients were perceived expertise, aura and schmoozing ability. Frankly, many marketing managers choose their agency of record more for the expense accounts they use to feed them than for their results.

What incentive do those agencies have to test their ideas?

They don’t. In every case, anything that smelled of testing—direct marketing, database marketing, online testing—has always been shoved in a back room and down-played.

Unsurprisingly, I was an outsider in that environment. I wanted to do good work, get great results and not conform to the norm.

There’s a cautionary tale in the demise of ad agencies.

When you have success in one business model, tremendous courage is required to test something different. It’s hard for the successful to believe the writing on the wall is a true warning. But, if you don’t, you’re doomed to eventual demise.

I didn’t need much courage back then. I had nothing to lose and I had a vision of something new. As Eminem said:

You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

— Eminem

Now, things have changed for WiderFunnel. We have something to lose. We have a reputation, a service model that works, a book published with our ideas, and positive inertia.

That scares me. I don’t want to get comfortable.

I’m committing to you, our clients, our team and my family that we will never stop testing and learning. We will try new services that have good strategic rationale, test new delivery models, find new ways to deliver more value, challenge assumptions, test new hypotheses.

Testing is not just what we do for clients. We live this ethos because we believe in continuous improvement. We will never sit still.

I hope you won’t either.

On the other hand, I may be wrong about ignorance creating courage. Ignorance of barriers may simply have the same effect as true knowledge that there are no barriers.

Listen to these wise words from the late, great Steve Jobs:

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  • It is the same way that I am developing my business. When I try to stop and do a Business Plan, I am halted by the sheer amount of uncertainty that surrounds every business. Talking to some colleagues that have succcessful businesses for 20-30 years, that is also true. When you stop trying, you start your downfall. And having too much to lose is the quickest way to ruin.

  • Hey Chris,
    thank you for sharing and your candor. My partner Kelly Kubrick and I have gone through similar thoughts and feelings. She's in Ottawa, I'm here in Vancouver and we are creating a new conference as well as building a digital maturity model. We worked through our doubts and recognized that this entire digital space is founded on continuous movement, evolution and change. Businesses new and old are in a continuous state of transformation, as are people. It's the reason why we developed the conference, to help businesses adapt and help people understand the connection between how we think and how we feel. If we change our thinking around testing, trying something new, or doing "it" differently; then our chances for doing it better and gaining competitive advantage increase substantially. And here we are and here we go!

    • Congratulations on your continued adventure, Andrea!