Hurricane Sandy shows a little bit of knowledge is not always a good thing

During the storm of the century here in New York, as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York City, a British friend sent a note of support with the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On'. I found it odd that at a time when some lives hung in the balance, that a phrase encouraging a stiff upper lip would be used to comfort and support what I can only imagine must have been viewed by many watchers across the Atlantic as overhyped, overly-dramatic Americans and American media once again making a big to-do over nothing.

Susan Cantor

Too often today, with the world made smaller by social media and digital connectedness, I confront opinions from around the world on issues that are, in my view, uniquely American and yet seem so obviously simple to solve to my fellow humanity overseas.

A friend who is British, living in Singapore, never fails to post his opinions about the American political system and his desired outcome of the 2012 election. I can only hypothesize that he believes that the 12 months or so that he spent living in NY, well over a decade ago, made him as expert as any of the political pundits on the issues of the day.

I use these examples to make the case that a little bit of knowledge is not always a good thing. If you read, subscribe to twitter, surf the web or ride the subway or the Tube, you probably accumulate enough knowledge on a broad swath of subjects to carry on a lively conversation at a dinner party. I suspect, if you work in the business of advertising or marketing, you might even be able to spin this little bit of knowledge on a broad range of subjects into a perception that you know quite a lot about quite a lot of stuff.

What’s maddening today is how little people actually know, and yet how blustery they can be. How small bits of information inform radical opinions and how those with little or no background on a subject can fashion themselves expert because they read the headlines on Rather than dedicating ourselves to learning and experiencing, to becoming expert on a subject (which according to Malcolm Gladwell takes 10,000 hard-earned hours), we rate ourselves on the amount of stuff we know, rather than the depth of understanding we have on a subject.

As marketers and advertisers, it’s important that we have a global view of our planet and that we are worldly citizens who appreciate diverse people, products and experiences. Our business moves quickly and we need to be able to move quickly with it. But this should not at the expense of learning the art and science of marketing in the modern world and deeply understanding our clients’ businesses and their business challenges.

Clients pay us because we claim to be experts; let’s not disappoint.

Susan Cantor

Susan Cantor is CEO of Red Peak, a brand strategy and design agency based in New York City, and a founding member of the Kyu collective.

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