By three methods may we learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by
experience, which is bitterest.
Let's examine these three methods a little more closely.
Learn by reflection: My friend and mentor, Michael Ray, believes that the question, "What should I do?" is not really a question of action - it's a question of information.
When it comes to small business marketing, whenever you find yourself asking, "What should I do?" there's something you need to find out first: it could be information about yourself, your capabilities, your prospects, your marketplace, your goals, your resources, or your intentions, but there's some piece of information that is missing.
When you have all the information, you will know exactly what to do.
The best way to access this information might be to take 10 steps back from the problem - zoom way, way out - and spend some time on a mental "retreat." The retreat could be as short as an hour, or as long as a week, or even more if you have the time.
Take the time you need to re-examine the situation and your relationship to it. Look inward and explore your intuition and your feelings. If you need more external information, go find it - talk to people, do some research, get out and about.
But always bring that information back and examine it introspectively and holistically to put all the pieces of the puzzle on the table. Then, allow what you see and feel to help you decide what
Learn by imitation: Best practices are dead. So that's not what I mean by imitation. But if you see something that works in one company or industry, see how that might apply in a cross-pollinating way to your organization - and specifically to the marketing challenge you're trying to acquire wisdom about solving.
For example, what can you learn from:
Southwest Airlines flies to a limited number of cities that are profitable for them. They choose where they want to compete.
AOL used to send out countless millions of subscription CD's for people to try their service firsthand.
Sony prides itself on the speed with which they can take a new idea and prototype it in order to get feedback from internal groups. Their average time to prototype: 5 days.
As composer Igor Stravinsky put it, "A good composer does not imitate; he steals."
Learn by experience: People sometimes make the mistake of assuming that learning by experience is the same as learning from your mistakes. That's only part of it.
Perhaps more important is learning from your successes.
Look for what went right in the past; what successes were easy, effortless, and enjoyable? What did you put into motion that "just clicked" and turned out even better than you expected?
It is these successes that are some of your most powerful teachers in business and in life.
I'm not suggesting that you try to replicate past successes - you can't.
But you can replicate the conditions under which those successes came to be. You can look back and recall the tools, the skills, and the resources that you mobilized. You can start to inventory your strengths, personal preferences, and your own best ways of working.
And those things, if used intentionally and with clarity, are much more likely to serve you well in the future!