Ideas  /  Dave Mason  /  01.31.17
Photo: Dave Mason
Photo: Dave Mason

The internet is the most incredible innovation. We now have, literally at our fingertips, the sum total of all human knowledge. I don’t know about you, but for me, simply typing a word or phrase into a Google search field can bring me so much information that it’s almost impossible to make sense of—so much information in fact, that if I’m not careful, analysis paralysis can quickly set in and render me inert.

Knowing is good. Not knowing is also good.

Innovation is rooted in knowing and not knowing. It's about being able to look at something that exists (in some cases that existing something might actually be ‘nothing’—an unmet need) and then combining expertise with creativity to conceive and develop previously unknown ‘things’ that solve problems, create value or generate opportunities.

We do a lot of work with people who simultaneously know and don’t know. And we love it, because that’s the way we approach what we do.

Our clients certainly know science, or engineering, or retail, or higher education, or trucking. And they might know, for example, that they want to actualize a big idea by creating businesses, products or services that provide value for people in new ways. But maybe they don’t know how to name those things, or give them form, or communicate about them in ways that resonate with the people they’re wanting to connect with. Maybe they don’t know how to create and activate the kinds of communication plans and assets they need to help them realize their goals. So they turn to us because of what we know, and we come right back at them with what we don’t.

Sure, we know design and visual communication. We know web development and video production and how to put compelling words together. But when we engage with any new client, we can’t really know what they know. We’re the opposite of experts in their fields. That state of ‘unknowing’ allows us to ask a lot of ‘dumb’ questions, and inevitably the answers to those questions are loaded with the opposite of dumb, which leads us back to what we do know. Because we combine deep knowledge of strategic design with years of experience developing solutions for clients in a huge range of disparate business—we view the answers to those ‘dumb’ questions through a set of lenses that allow us to approach our client’s challenges from some unexpected directions. This interplay of knowing and not knowing, of expertise and ignorance, is where innovation and creativity happen.

Open to possibilities.

There’s a term for that kind of (un)knowing approach: Beginner’s Mind.

It’s a Zen concept essentially rooted in the idea that for beginners there are many possibilities, but for experts there are few. Also known as growth mindset, it’s the kind of thinking that gets us most fired up about what we do and the people for whom we do it.

Our clients look to us to help them move their ideas, businesses, products and services forward, oftentimes into the unknown, and it’s more than energizing to see them succeed by helping them to envision, build, execute and communicate.