A SIX-YEAR-OLD CAN DO IT…You Can, Too!

Gulping my coffee this morning, watching the latest storm roll over Keene, New Hampshire, and reading our very own local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel. The Sentinel is noted for being the fifth oldest continuously published newspaper in the U.S..

I’m intrigued by an article in the business section. It’s by Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (Aside: Milwaukee is another cold, cold city. I Googled the latitudes of both cities and found that Milwaukee is at 43.04N and Keene is at 42.933N. Brrrr!)

You can read the entire article here. It’s about a professor of marketing who conducts market research with methods that resemble psychoanalysis.

So what does a marketing research technique that uncovers the real reason “real men” buy power tools have to do with your business in art and craft?

Because the most powerful technique they used was “…a rigorous format that includes repeatedly asking “Why?” like a persistent 6-year-old.”

Does this technique sound familiar?

I’ve never heard of the ZMET technique, though I hope to learn more. I discovered the power of “why” almost eight years ago, at a gallery talk for a juried art show I was in.

I’d never been to one before, and hoped to hear what drove the passions of my fellow exhibitors. I was disappointed to hear a lot of acadamese instead. In my ignorance and eagerness to learn what “real artists” thought, I kept pressing the speakers, asking “why” over and over. To a photographer who used images from a sole Greek island as her subject, I asked, “But why this island? And why this particular point in history?”, she finally revealed her personal and heartfelt inspiration. To a fiber artist who had used unusual materials to construct a coat with an “inside story”, the question revealed what that inside story was–and it was powerful.

It was a hard process, and not appealing to everyone–the newspaper review of the show later referred to me as “the persistent woman in the audience who kept asking ‘why?'” But every single artist came up to me afterwards and thanked me. One said, “You know, at first I was annoyed that you kept asking. But then it all came pouring out…. I never really knew before what drove my work. And now I do.” Another said, “I never realized the power of speaking my own story, my own truth, til you pushed me there. Thank you!”

I have used this technique when teaching artists how to write effective artist statements. I’ve used it in workshops to develop a story hook for press releases. I use it simply talking to people who pique my interest, wanting to find out what makes them tick.

I have never been disappointed by the answers I get to this question.

Who knew that simple question of a six-year-old could teach us so much?