I had a neat conversation with a dear friend of mine yesterday who shall remain nameless. He’s an alcoholic, sober for decades now. One of the things that has kept him on the straight and narrow over the years is being a sponsor at AA. My dude loves to help others. It gives his life big-ass purpose.
Yesterday he told me the people he speaks to in AA and those he deals with at work – he works with disabled veterans, making their homes more accessible – is that they are all strangers to him at first. And as such, they feel a freedom to open up to him. When he is dealing with peoples’ truths and important issues he can be most helpful. In fact, he joked, some of the things that come out of his mouth are advice he himself should take.
I identified with his talking-to-strangers notion as that’s what I do in my brand strategy work. Yeah I’m mining for insights, yeah I’m studying data, yeah I observe and hypothesize consumer trends, but first and foremost I talk with people. People who are the buyers, potential buyers and influencers of buyers.
I make it easy on those strangers to tell me the truth. I never position myself as someone who needs to be impressed. I don’t judge, in fact I try to disarm with a personal numb-nuts story or two. Then shoot quickly past the niceties and jump into the work of listening and learning.
I tell truths and I expect my interviewees to tell the truth.