Sunday, April 18, 2010


It is my experience that the most powerful operating state for human beings is “I don’t know.” Now I know how that sounds, but let’s look at it carefully without being controlled by our egos. Your first reaction to this is likely that you have spent much of your life, your parent’s money and your personal energy learning stuff. Acquiring information or knowledge as it is so often referred to. If so, how can not knowing serve you well? The first thing you have to do is understand that in this contest, “not knowing,” is how you operate and not how you promote yourself to others.

Over time, I have noticed that there appear to be two distinct and very different classifications of knowledge. One is intelligence and the other is awareness. They became clear to me when I realized that some people are more effective in the use of the knowledge they have acquired than others. As we pursue our goals in life we have been taught to accumulate lots of information to support the decisions we make. We do so with the idea in mind that the more information we gather the more effective we will become. Awareness, for this purpose, is essentially knowledge of the pertinent information that will allow one to make decisions easily based on common logic. Awareness is finite and can be acquired in a relatively short time. You don’t have to be a skilled animator to understand the process of animation or to direct an animated film. Intelligence, on the other hand is fueled by information and these days there is an over-abundance of information. Therein lies a trap for marketers.

The major brands that I work on, have figured out exactly how to deal with this phenomena and I suspect may have done so without having analyzed it in the way I have here. Rarely do I see a brand manager on the same brand for more than three or four years. The brand manager is at a level where their attention on a single selling proposition becomes familiar very quickly.

Given this problem has been removed from the world of big corporate marketing, what about the entrepreneur? Let’s assume he has owned the same business for seven years. Here’s the trap. In this persons mind, they possess all of the information that is available relative to their business. In this circumstance, the owners operating state is “I already know.”  My experience is that all of that information and the entrepreneurs knowledge that they have all that information, pretty much makes them, ineffective. If you are an entrepreneur, you must stay aware of becoming too intelligent about your category. Did you get that? Don’t be intelligent, about being intelligent.

Years ago I created an operating state for myself that I rarely share with anyone because there are those who will interpret it as a sign of weakness. It is in fact a sign of strength. My operating state is “I don’t know.” I’ll explain.

“I don’t know” doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. It means that I take nothing for granted and I’m more curious as to what is possible. Can you see that this serves me well when my clients expect me to create “what’s next?” I don’t walk around saying I don’t know, but I do frequently say that I know how to find out. It’s simply in my head that I don’t assume anything and I recommend you consider doing the same. Additionally, and also very important, it does not stop or even slow me down from making decisions and recommendations. You must be very clear about how to use the distinction I call “I don’t know.”

The learning here is to alter your operating state to “I don’t know” but keep it to yourself. Good luck.


Keith Chambers

Keynote Marketing Speaker
Creative Marketing Consultant
(310) 473-0010

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  1. Hi Keith,
    You have hit upon the very crux of Zen Buddhism..they consider the most elevated state of consciousness to be that of "not knowing," being instead the "observer." Nice article.

  2. Hi Carolyn:

    Thanks for your comment. As it turns out, I am in fact a Buddhist. This blog may well have been influenced as a result.

    By the way, once the observation is complete a committed action must follow. Staying in action is a critical component to effective marketing. Waiting and watching usually results in one beeing at the effect of one's competition.

    Good Luck,