Does it, sometimes, feel like we’re clumsily using cool tools to solve the same old, uncool problems?  

One of the most interesting thing about buzzwords is the fact that they are semantic stopsigns, words people use to shut down critical thought and close down the opportunity for meaningful exploration of truths. 

Example: If someone asks you how you intend to build a brand, say ‘we’ll drive engagement!’. Semantic Stopsign. 

If someone asks you how you are going to understand your users better and serve them the content and experience they want, say ‘big data!’, or ‘Machine Learning!’ or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, ‘we’ll put them on the blockchain!

Semantic stopsigns destroy critical thought, so why do we like to use them? Why’s our first instinct to shut important arguments down with meaningless words that don’t improve anything? 

The answer may simply be because we, as humans, are bored. 

Old Problems Are Boring Problems 

Humans are simple organisms designed to build complex systems. It’s not accidental: whenever we are faced with a problem, the more intelligent humans consider the first-, second- and third-order effects of solving that problem. They ask: what new problems does solving this one problem cause? 

This means that no problem is simple; systems need to be built to handle all the exceptions generated by solving a single problem. That’s how you get institutions (an example is marriage: getting two people to say ‘I do’ generates so many problems such as ownership of property, familial responsibility, state responsibility, financial share and taxation, that there needs to be an institution dedicated to it). 

This complexity eventually grows to abstract the problem: where we can no longer remember the problem, but work day to day to keep the institutions we’ve built running using new tools. When we forget the problem, we resort to buzzwords, semantic stopsigns and bemoan our lack of meaningful impact in our industries. 

Old Problems = Gold Problems

Here’s the thing: the truly important problems are also our oldest, most boring ones. Marketing (even before the age of digital) has always had to answer the same tedious questions, such as:

a. How do I identify a (future) customer before they purchase? 

b. How do I know a customer I’m about to lose? 

c. How do I find more people like my current customers (thereby growing my customer base on the path of least resistance?)

d. How do I cut down on marketing wastage by serving ads only to the people most likely to take action? 

Because these are old-timey questions, our eyes have become so glazed over that the only way we can bring ourselves to tackle them is with buzzwords and new tech. The only interesting way to get anyone’s attention now is to yell ‘Artificial Intelligence will fix user churn!’ in a conference. 

That is all well and good, but sometimes we may be missing the trees for the forest. 

Go Small or Go Home

Time and time again, the most impactful people (and the most impactful campaigns) have returned to the basic, old and boring questions and attempted to answer them.

The people who will win are those who drill past the buzzwords and industry trends to figure out which old, boring questions are still unanswered and then dedicate their lives to answering them satisfactorily. 

Maybe the blockchain or Machine Learning is the answer, but what is the question? 

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