I started my career as a research scientist at UCLA and spent years in the lab laser-focused on repeatability between experiments, making each day EXACTLY the same as the last. As intellectually challenging as it was, it was also… boring. If variety is the spice of life, I was eating white bread every day.

This is what led me away from the lab and instead to BrewLife, and an existence fully of daily variety. Two weeks ago is a perfect example.

W2O Group, the parent company of BrewLife, hosted its 5th annual Pre-Commerce Summit to kick off SXSW Interactive on March 11th in Austin, TX. The day was full of compelling talks that made me rethink my approach to communicating, to strategy, even to thinking.

I learned that if you want to make products that resonate with your audience, you need to check your preconceptions at the door. This is exactly what didn’t happen when YouTube engineers first designed how videos reorient when you turn your phone. (All my fellow left-handers know what I mean.)

Al Roker and W2O President, Jim Weiss
Al Roker and W2O President, Jim Weiss

To communicate effectively, you not only need to put your preconceptions aside, you should also put yourself in the shoes of the person you are communicating to. A great idea can be lost simply because it wasn’t explained in a clear or inspiring way. Al Roker shared a story at the PreCommerce summit that most parents can relate to. In an attempt to get his teenage daughter to clean her room, Al resorted to yelling, which resulted in tears and accusations of “if only America could see this Al Roker.” A clean room probably would have benefited both Al and his daughter, but once communication broke down they could not reach a point where they agreed on the best outcome.

All of these Pre-Commerce Summit talks started my brain a-swirling. How do we make sure we’re taking our best ideas and communicating them in a relevant and persuasive way?

ACC logoConveniently for my mileage rewards program, I went straight from SXSW to the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Conference in San Diego. I was there to work with a client on sharing the story their data told and helping others see the value of it. Even in the world of data there is disagreement: You can’t argue with a number but you can argue about what that number means. This idea of different takeaways or reactions to the same set of information was exactly the concept that had been rattling around in my head ever since the Pre-Commerce talks. In my brain, it was like SXSW, soul patches and live music collided directly with cardiologists in suits. Two worlds that shall never meet… until they did.

I left San Diego with a greater appreciation that no matter what the topic is, from healthcare, to tech, to family discussions, we each bring our own preconceived notions to the table and, at times, struggle to get others to see our point of view. But you can’t get others to understand your point of view until you understand what they bring to the conversation.

Communication is an art, a science and definitely not a one-way street. You cannot effectively engage in discussion until you listen to what the other person is bringing to the conversation and account for that in your thinking. It may change your approach to the discussion, but more importantly, it may change your own preconceptions. Maybe you’ll consider a new treatment protocol for your patient or maybe you’ll think to make a video player that rotates for left-handed people.