For an idea to catch on, it must reflect a clear, if unarticulated, societal longing.
Wolfgang Blau, President @Conde Nast International
I haven’t quoted Wolfgang Blau verbatim here but this is how his remark landed with me. Wolfgang was speaking in the context of business and the complexity of search engines at the international level.
I’m attending Yoastcon in Nijmegen, Netherlands. It’s a web marketing or search engine optimization conference put on by the SEO plugin Yoast.
Mostly, this was an excuse for my wife and me to visit a part of Europe we’ve never experienced before. The web marketing education here is “lite” as you might imagine. Not much space at these conferences to go deep.
Yet, Wofgang Blau (7 January 2019) addressed profound socio-cultural-political issues related to the internet. He’s the President of Conde Nast International, publisher of such magazines as Vogue, GQ, Wired, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, and many others.
What makes an idea catch on and what does this have to do with mental health?
Digital marketers, strive to grow audiences by focusing on strategies and tactics that get a message in front of the right people. SEOs obsess over site structure and link building and a thousand metrics that guide their efforts to rank well in the search engine results pages.
But to me, Wolfgang Blau’s message touched on web marketing at a whole new level of depth and sophistication – and it was more than a mere mention that content is king. Wolfgang introduced the fascinating concept that (this is 100% my interpretation) people don’t always know what they want or need.
Yet, these unacknowledged needs, most often identified through the process of meeting them, have the potential to introduce sweeping changes. Examples of this potentially disruptive concept could be the following:
Business: In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. Suddenly, millions of people had to have one. It’s reasonable to suggest that none of these people believed they needed an iPhone before it existed. The iPhone created wants and needs as people became familiar with it.
Personal: Personal needs may be a bit different because most adults have at least heard of their needs, even if they have not experienced a thorough meeting of those needs. For example, you may be coasting along in an unemotional, non-fulfilling relationship because, frankly, you’ve never experienced a deep connection and emotional intensity with a partner before. Then, the day comes when you meet your match. As you get to know this new person, your desires are so intense that you feel swept off your feet. Your unmet needs for intimacy, connection and love are exploding to the surface now that they are being met.
Discovering a need – or experiencing one at a new level of intensity – can change your entire life. The consequences are often messy. The point is, such needs are so powerful that we’re often willing to clean up the mess.
Steve Jobs understood this concept in the context of business:
Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.
Steve Jobs ~ see Goodreads
Jobs understood what people were willing to do to get their hands on a product that satisfied powerful wants and needs. And he absolutely understood that people couldn’t tell you what those needs were. Jobs introduced people to their wants and needs by way of his products.
All this wisdom from business leaders such as Blau and Jobs speaks to a central issue in mental health that dates (at least) to Freud’s model of the unconscious mind. The central tenet of Freud’s work had to do with the pervasive role of the unconscious mind in daily life.
The moment we begin to comprehend the vastness of our subconscious processing, we experience a new level of personal humility. When you get how little conscious choice you appear to have compared with decisions made beneath the surface of your awareness, it’s a welcome check to the ego.
What do you unknowingly long for (or merely need) that you might only recognize when you see it?
The question presupposes that it can’t be answered prior to discovering the object of your need. Let’s not challenge the presupposition.
This still leaves us with something to do that could facilitate greater and greater personal discoveries. We could call it priming the pump. What if we anticipated making these kinds of discoveries in the near future? How might we move beyond the mere chance that we’ll discover a need or a new way to meet a need? What if we simply expected it to happen on a regular basis?
By asking the question and paying attention to potential results each day, we may effectively point our mind in the direction of new discoveries and additional ways to meet our needs. This method has the potential to become part of our way of being in the world. What if we made it so?
Finally, if we remained on the lookout for creative new ways to discover and meet our needs on a regular basis, we might not be as vulnerable to being swept away by an unexpected deluge of need fulfillment.
In business, disruptive products are welcome. In personal life, unexpected disruptions can be devastating if not handled well.
Many thanks to Wolfgang Blau for his thought leadership at Yoastcon 2019.