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Strategic insights
Know what you are doing!

Written by on June 8, 2008

If you give me two glasses of good red wine, I will probably be able to tell them apart - and I will certainly be able to tell which one I like the most. But that doesn't make me a wine connoisseur. While I can tell which one I personally like, I cannot tell you which one is actually the best one. To do that, I need experience.

Having an opinion about something is great, but a personal opinion never outranks know-how. You would be pretty silly to make your products blue, if you know that the color red is going to be the new trend. Even if you happen to personally like that color.

Just as you would look pretty silly wearing clothes from the 1980's, or think that the best way to make a website is to use flash animations like we did 10 years ago.

The problem is that most people do not know, that they do not know, which approach is the right one to use. That is - if you don't have the experience, you will not be able to tell trendy from old. In fact, you are much more likely to pick the wrong option.

To give you an example take a look at these two colors. One is the "old-red" and the other one is the new upcoming "trendy-red". Which one do you think is the trendy one?

Unless you have studied color trends, and work with colors, you do not know which one to pick. Your decision is based on guesswork, and that is not really a good recipe for success.

In fact you are very likely to choose the wrong one. This is because the human brain is not very good at change. If you ask your "inner-voice" it will tell you to pick the color you are most familiar with, which is the one it subconsciously already knows about - the old one.

BTW: The trendy color is actually the one on the left.

Here is another example. Below are two boxes; which one is the trendy one to use for a website?

In this case the answer is "neither". While the one of the right is the most modern one, both of them are pretty much out-of-date. The trendy way to make websites today is not to use a box at all.

How to know - instead of just having an opinion?

The key to making successful decisions is to know which one to choose before you have to choose it. You need to know what to do. Not guess, or simple using your intuition. And there are basically two ways to do just that.

1: Ask somebody that knows.

You do not know everything about everything, just as I do not know everything. So you have to ask somebody that does.

I didn't know which red to choose when I had to pick a trendy red color for my next project. So I "asked" Pantone, which is one of the leading authorities of color in the world. I looked at their color trends, and found that the color red shifted from being an intense red, to a more subdued red.

I didn't know, so I found out. Instead of just picking the one I liked the most.

And this is very important. Every time you find that you don't really know what decision to make - find somebody that does. It is the quickest and easiest way to "know" what to do.

2: Learn - and learn

Knowledge is also the result of experience, and it is far more powerful than asking. Because when you know something based on experience, you are free from uncertainty. And that gives you motivation and energy to do a great job.

But there really is no easy way to gain experience, other than spending a lot of time learning.

I suggest you spend at least 6 hours every single work-week just learning about how to do things, what direction design is taking, or new advances in web applications.

Also, it is just as important to know what the past was like - as it is to learn about future trends. Knowing what the past was like, gives you the power to tell what not to do. It reveals the mistakes people made in the past, so you don't have to make them again. And, it gives you the power to anticipate change and see what direction the world is taking (as you know, the world is in a constant state of change).

In short:

  1. Always base you decisions on knowledge
  2. If you don't know, ask somebody that does (or look it up at trustworthy sources)
  3. If you cannot find the answer, THEN you can use your intuition. Because it is far more important to do something and potentially fail, than to do nothing at all.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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