Learn Always: The Power of Saying, “I Don’t Know”

Learn Always: The Power of Saying, “I Don’t Know”

Here’s an interesting story…

MindMax came in second in an RFP selection, and we didn’t get the business. But then, a year later, something surprising happened. The school got back in touch and wanted to work with us.

When we asked for feedback on why they didn’t choose us in the first place, the answer was intriguing. The school initially selected an alternative higher education marketing company that provided a detailed roadmap to guaranteed success. That roadmap inspired confidence and put this vendor over the top. 

There was just one problem: The roadmap didn’t yield the desired results. 

In contrast, our proposal started by frankly admitting that we didn’t yet know the optimal plan—but that we’d figure it out together. Understandably, this approach can make people uncomfortable. Uncertainty often does. However, as this school came to discover, there is great power and potential in the words, “I don’t know.”

Learn Always: MindMax’s Core Value

I share this anecdote because it perfectly illustrates how MindMax lives its “learn always” core value: We strive to learn from all experiences, both successes and failures, in order to continually grow. 

I pushed for the core value to be simply, “I don’t know.” But, alas, I was outvoted. “Learn always” seemed like a good compromise: a reminder that education begins from a place of wanting to learn and that, as a company committed to serving higher education, we should embody that desire for knowledge. 

“Learn always” is imperative for the simple reason that there is always something new to learn—whether in approaches to marketing and enrollment or virtually anything else in the world. 

I taught biology in the late 1980s, and the syllabus I was working from was copyrighted in 1972. At that time, human knowledge about biology grew rapidly every month, yet there we were, relying on a syllabus from nearly two decades prior. That never sat well with me. 

Today, the rate at which humans generate new knowledge is faster than ever. Therefore, to specialize in anything, one must not be an expert knowledge source but an expert learner. 

The Tenets of Learn Always: Humility, Curiosity, and Sharing Knowledge  

What does it take to be an expert learner who commits to “learn always?” The first tenet is humility, or a willingness to admit, “I don’t know something.” Expert learners understand that “I don’t know” isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a jumping-off point for acquiring knowledge. 

This leads to the second tenet: curiosity, or a desire to seek the answers to that which you don’t know. Curiosity compels people to ask good, hard questions to dig deeper and learn more. 

MindMax regularly leverages the scientific method in our work with partner institutions. First, we develop a hypothesis for why something is or isn’t going well. We then test the hypothesis while remaining open to the possibility of it being wrong.

This approach enables us to bypass incorrect assumptions about problems like declining enrollments and identify the root causes.

Sharing knowledge is the third tenet of our “learn always” core value. As we learn how to optimize our approach to marketing and enrollment, we commit to transferring our knowledge to our clients. 

Why? Because we acknowledge that the role we fill for schools is often finite—a temporary solution that supports them when they lack the internal resources or expertise. When we enter engagements with this mindset, we’re not incentivized to “gate-keep” our learnings like other partners might.

Learn Always in Action 

One thing I am personally learning is how to more effectively communicate this value. I don’t want to give the impression that the MindMax team is a blank slate, all curiosity and no expertise. In our years of experience, we’ve acquired a significant body of cumulative knowledge that informs our engagements. 

We take note of patterns that emerge, document our findings in a knowledge base, optimize our processes when necessary, and maintain a firm grasp of always-evolving  marketing and enrollment best practices. However, what works for one campaign doesn’t necessarily work for another, and we want to figure out what will work best for yours

Here are a couple of examples of our “learn always” core value in action:

Growing enrollments for a pre-college summer program 

We recently worked with a school to grow enrollments for a pre-college summer program. Most of the advertising and messaging targeted students 14-17 years old. Upon reviewing the data and thinking critically about the enrollment journey, it became clear that the campaign had neglected to target a key decision-maker in this process: parents. 

Our team applied this learning by developing a parent-focused tab on the website with targeted content. Knowing that any visitors who clicked on that tab were likely parents, we were then able to retarget them with relevant messaging about costs, discounts, safety, and more—all without requiring them to complete a lead form. 

Generating high-quality leads with strategic advertising 

Another school engaged MindMax to receive support with digital marketing aimed at prospective students. We quickly learned that the budget wasn’t high enough to produce the desired results—partly because the school’s brand wasn’t widely known.

Our solution? Developing a creative, targeted solution that would help us achieve our partner’s goals while working within their budget. We worked with the school to identify the publications that interested teachers and students in the program and focused our advertising efforts on those publications’ websites. The result was significantly higher-quality leads and more volume in terms of cost per lead than if we had used a general B2C marketing approach. 

Learning Always Gets Results 

Like it or not, uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life. Failing to acknowledge it can lead to false promises and disappointment. Many schools have learned this lesson the hard way after working with a marketing partner that guaranteed outcomes but couldn’t deliver on them.  

We’ve found that acknowledging uncertainty keeps us humble and curious, which, in turn, allows us to “get results” (another of our core values)!

If our approach interests you, let’s talk.