Engage in sci-fi thinking to understand what makes people tick

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Last week I gave a workshop on how to mine social networks for insights. I used Facebook’s Fan Pages as a use case. Many of the participants were surprised as they didn’t visit Fan Pages and thought most were spammy. They also said they didn’t like it when brands suddenly went off topic because businesses should be serious, not fun (dominant assumption calling to be turned upside down).

And boy were they surprised with what I told them next…

There’s a question I like to ask:

What would you do if you were invisible?

A few people thought this question is ridiculous. That it didn’t make any sense. Why would I suggest going off topic? Way off topic? To get attention, some of them said. Nope. Not that type of attention.

It’s a simple question but, from my POV, very powerful. If you want to lead people and innovate, you have to break dominant thinking schemas.

Let me explain a few scenarios:

Hunting for insights

If you’ve been around social networks long enough, you know a lot of information gets exchanged daily. One of the main benefits of social media is the ability to gather insights into who your customers are, how and what they think. As well as how they are changing. One of the easiest ways to do this is asking questions to your fans/followers.

For example, if you have a Fan Page on Facebook with an engaged following, ask them what they would do if they were invisible. Hopefully you’ll get some answers. If you don’t, then answer the question yourself and then ask them for their thoughts. Most likely the last approach will work as you’ve put yourself out there first.

I know, sometimes people don’t articulate exactly what they want. But if you ask a question that puts them in a different mindset, you have an opportunity to uncover hidden insights into people’s psyche they wouldn’t normally express in a direct way.

These conversations are always interesting because people tell you things they are probably thinking for the first time themselves. They’ll get all excited and think you are interesting. Another benefit!

Who are you?

It isn’t enough to know what people’s favorite color and movie are. More importantly, do you know what their values are and what motivates them?

By making an effort to understand others. Not just what their favorite color is, but what makes them tick, you become a better leader.

Simply asking a question like ‘What would you do is you were invisible?’ will tell you if a particular person has imagination. What they would like to do, what their insecurities are and also where you can help them improve.

Maybe someone will tell you that if they were invisible, they would take advantage of the opportunity to go to Pixar undetected and see how all the magic happens. You would then ask him/her why they would do that. Why are you interested in seeing how Pixar makes movies? What is it about Pixar that interests you?

Following this simple line of questioning can tell you a lot of people indirectly. You follow what they give you and let the conversation flow from there.

Closing thoughts…

Why is this important to your business? Simply because you have to be able to empathize with your customers. There a lot of hidden insights behind those warm bodies. Wouldn’t you like to know what they are?

Of course, the idea of putting people in an imaginative mindset is not new. There are creative techniques, like metaphors, that are designed to help people turn their imaginary juices on.

For example, when I was a kid I was obsessed with war planes. Still am. I actually use the F-22 Raptor as a model for this blog and many other things. I simply ask myself: If I were a jet fighter, which one would I be? The answer always comes back to the Raptor. Why? Because it embodies excellence and can do a lot of things extremely well. It’s fast, beautiful, stealthy and lethal.

Put your customers in an imaginative thinking state to discover what makes them tick!

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