About a decade ago I went into a record shop in Soho and asked about a forthcoming release by a DJ/producer called Will Saul. I was really into his stuff at the time.
The shop assistant picked up her phone…
“Will, hi! Yeah, OK. No. Did you? Really? Look, when’s the album out? Monday? Thanks.”
You get the idea. She called Will Saul. Thing is, I imagine he was pretty busy given that his record was due out that coming Monday. More to the point, record shops tend to get lists of releases, with the dates on.
So, why did she call him? Well, because she knew Will Saul. And she wanted me to know that she knew Will Saul. She wanted me witness her network; something she’d never have managed to do by just answering the question. You could argue that she was sourcing good information. I’d argue that she wasn’t.
Here’s another record shop example. Let’s just say that I wanted to find some new music but wasn’t sure what I was looking for. There are two ways for a record shop to deal with this:
- Play something they really like and see if I like it too
- Interrogate me about genres and what I’m into
I’d like it if they did 1. Chances are they’d go for 2. You might think 2 is the better option (after all, it seems pretty research-driven and user-focused) but as far as I’m concerned that option, and the scenario I talked about at the start, are one and the same thing.
In other words:
- Who you know
- What you know
What they both equate to is a demonstration of relative importance. It’s the equivalent of telling someone just how much you know about what they’re asking but not giving them an answer. It clarifies your importance as a node, without revealing the vulnerability of your opinion.
Sometimes when we ask people questions we’d most value that vulnerability. That vulnerability is one of the ingredients of a truly engaging user experience, of putting someone else first. And it doesn’t feed off our ignorance.