5.12 Conventional Wisdom

A monkey posing with his chin rested on his hand. Intelligence: not because you think you know everything without questioning, but rather because you question everything you think you know.

Digital Ralph: CC by 2.0

For reasons of time savings, you often concentrate on obvious or simple approaches to a message. But this may lead to a message that does nothing more than convey the conventional wisdom in an area, failing to provide the audience with a more creative, original, or, perhaps, accurate approach. The information strategy process provides you with a method for identifying fresh angles or new twists on a topic. One of the advantages of using idea-mapping and point-of-view diagrams is that they help you identify what we think we know about a topic and to challenge yourself to come up with a fresh approach to the topic.

The media are often accused of being trapped by conventional wisdom. In order to get beyond the conventional wisdom, it is first necessary to understand what it is. Conventional wisdom usually contains a grain of truth. It is different than faith, blind prejudice, or stereotypes. The essential elements of conventional wisdom about any topic can usually be demonstrated in some sense. For example: conventional wisdom says that cats are difficult to train, Midwestern universities have good hockey teams, and women are good listeners. Each of these is based on some socially-arrived-at assumptions about reality.

Conventional wisdom abounds in every field and for every topic. Advertisers and marketers operated under the assumption that women generally were not big purchasers and users of technology, until a study done for a women’s magazine showed that 65 percent of the women surveyed had purchased a personal computer for home use in the previous two years. And 53 percent of those surveyed said that advertising for computer-related products did not appeal to them because it was aimed at men. Advertisers trapped by the conventional wisdom about who purchases products and services lose opportunities to create messages with a fresh, new and effective appeal.