Curiosity can take many forms. Curious people read books. They scan the internet for answers. They sit in coffee shops and people watch. They strike up conversations with complete strangers. They may even eavesdrop. Why? Because they want to know – have to know – what makes other people tick and how the world works.
Sometimes curiosity requires an out-of-body experience. Or at least an out-of-your-normal-frame-of-reference experience. Take my friend’s curious daughter. (Because she is under 18 and I like to protect my friends’ privacy, I’m giving her a pseudonym. Let’s call her Beth.)
Beth is an able bodied 12-year-old who came to school one day in a wheelchair. She wasn’t hurt or injured. So why did she do it? Because Beth has a cousin who is a paraplegic and Beth wanted to know what life would feel like to be confined to a wheelchair like her cousin. She knew she had to experience it to truly understand.
We would all be better communicators if we were more like Beth. How well we relate to our clients and/or their audiences is directly proportional to a willingness to put ourselves in their shoes.
Here’s an example. I’m never going to be a high school teen in an inner city school. So if I have to put together a promotion aimed at urban students, I better walk the halls, sit in on a few classes and go to a basketball game to understand the pressures, the slang and the role models for today’s urban student.
Similarly, try creating a communications plan for a cardiologist without getting in the office to watch him interact with a few patients and his staff. Unless I see him in action, I can’t really understand what he brings to his profession, what he really values (as opposed to what he says he does) or write anything that speaks his language, his style, his voice.
Researching a topic is good. Understanding the market trends is good. Talking to experts is fine. Getting out from behind the computer and experiencing life first-hand is even better.
Whose shoes did you try on today?