What is the best way of learning about a new domain, let’s say marketing. Is it studying the practicioners and best practiocioners, or it is studying the conceptual landscape they operate it? Well, it depends. Maybe it’s both.
Fundamentally Intuitive Systems of Representation
For a lack of better words, when I was still young at heart and reading through my local library, at some point – and I am surely not the only one – realized that the forms of mental representation in all domains were starting to appear everywhere.
I mean, obvious that everyone knows how to mentally use the Cartesians space to imagine shapes and their dynamic movement in space. Easy. Or to solve basic geometric problems such as calculating or estimating volumes of shapes.
As programmers might know, a lot of things can be solved using algorithms. Or as mathematicians know, lots of well defined statements can be used to deduct well-defined conclusions from those statements. Lawyers know how to use induction or they call it subsumption, to map a set of real world facts into a legal framework to deduct if a crime is likely to have happened or not. UX designers know about recurring shapes and patterns that are attached to mental habits and how to assemble them to make the experience of a product useful and delightful. Statisticians and quantum phycists build strong understanding of uncertainty, whereas engineers, forecasters and economists get a deep intuitive understanding on how to seperate uncertainty from model error.
Almost everyone working with mathematical equations knows how to represent a relationship of objects in equations and how to analyse the relationship using these equations.
So there are basic representations, that we all are trained in, and they are somewhat atomic or fundamental. And are applied to every domain where they become useful. And every problem and theory can be expressed and explained by mapping real world phenomena in one of those systems of representation and moving through an algorithm that maps a solution flow through a series/journey of such representations.
This is an interesting topic for itself, but the application to marketing here is simple again: everyone doing anything in marketing will do it in a controlled fashion using a set of the above representations. And for everything we do, in every system of representation, there is a best such representation. Knowing this best representation allows you to understand the best any marketing person using this representation can ever do. And that best representation might come from another domain such as physics or chemistry or arts history.
In that sense, the best performance in a domain in my opinion rests in the application of the best algorithms – algo fit to the problem – in the best representations – reps that make solving the problems at hand most efficient – in the best way – you still need skill and craft to operate the algos and reps. And that is something not intrinsic to the marketing domain here, but to a general domain of brain power.
But then again, the identification of the best is not always something you can deduct or stumble upon systematically. It might just be the case that someonee, somewhere stumbled upon it. And started using it. Eventually creating a arbitrage on solving a particular problem which essentially will get observed, copied, percolated and moves into public domain. Having a process of harnessing the power of this process is one thing. And it means listening, observing, talking to people while already having a good representation skillset, and being sensitive when a new one comes along. And then grabbing the opportunity. Not being pre-determined on one particular way of doing things.
Locally optimal solutions
But then again, the world shifts and distortions happen. The globally optimal solution or way of doing things might start to underperform in a local domain. Is this deep or logically wrong? Neither.
The goal of a marketing might stay the same all the time. But the recipient of his efforts, his buyer, might have a radical shift in the way he structures and understands value. This shift can be rational – again, a radical shift into higher capability of seeing non-value – or irrational – a moronic shift into something less valuable but maybe perceived a more valuable. Those irriationalities are not uncommong in trends, addictions, etc. So if everyone liked to sell fashion based on standard shapes and various colors and a fit of clothing warmth with weather conditions, the shift could go to wildly mixed colors and completely random shapes and completely random weather-adeptndess – e.g. underwear that makes you sweat, and winder cloths that make you you freeze for morning clothes, and so forth. Things look irrational, especially regarding optimality for weather.
Or buyers might start to enjoy buying diapers not any longer because there are cute babies in facebook ads, but there is animal cruelty shown in mail order catalogues (print) sold in churches. There is no way to formally exclude such tastes and consumer behaviours from forming. In that case, all online marketing skillsets and processes would be completely useless for selling to this domain.
The idea behind local optimality is to accept that there are forces in teh market where listening to the best marketers or in generla the best of their field is giving more insight and value than using the systems of representation model. Because the conclusions drawn on how the domain currently works most effectively might be different.
Learn and listen to the street and the people practicing the domain. But go beyond by learning about general and abstract ways of doing things and doing them right. Learn from the lucky practicioners, who are unable to “under”-stand their own work conceptually, but are effective; find the ones who are predictably lucky because they are highly sensitive to “local” changes and have a high “under”-standing of their own work domain and are willing to increase their conceptual repertoire and being creative with it in uncovering new optimal solutions.