Failing AS Biology was a low point in my education.  However, in the process I happened to learn a crucial life lesson.

Our biology teacher could be distracted faster than you could say “osmosis”.  Needless to say not much work was done.  Come the summer of year 12, and exam time, we had covered about a third of the year’s syllabus.  The week after the biology exam we pupils were up in arms.  Furiously we contested that it wasn’t fair as we hadn’t been taught the answer to two thirds of the questions.

One question on the paper was on the tongue:
“7. How does the tongue sense different tastes?  Explain the diagram below.”

Crude drawing of how the tongue tastes different flavours

Crude depiction of how the tongue tastes different flavours

Not knowing the answer to this question we confronted the teacher.  “Even though I never taught you about the tongue – you should have known this answer.  It should have been logical.  It is common sense.”

As a 16-17 year old; sense wasn’t that common.  By the reasoning of our teacher the diagram of a tongue and taste buds in action was similar enough to an enzyme breaking down molecules.  We should have recognised it.

How an enzyme works.  The lock and key concept

How an enzyme works. The lock and key concept

For those of you who didn’t study science at school; enzymes are biological catalysts – they make reactions happen – usually by breaking stuff down.  The shape of an enzyme will dictate what kind of molecule it breaks down.  The “active site” where stuff is broken down has to be the right shape for the substrate molecules (thing it is breaking down) to fit in.  It is called a lock and key method as only the right shape will fit in.  For more information check this out (you geek)

We couldn’t fault his logic.  The diagrams looked similar enough for us to be able to at least have made a crude guess at the correct response.

From that day fourth I’ve tried to consider all that I’ve learnt professionally, academically and personally when solving problems.

Marketers need to do this all the time.  We all have experience of convincing someone to do something they initially didn’t want to.  Maybe it was selling them something, maybe getting them to go out on a date with you, maybe it was getting your kids to do their homework.  Whatever you did to convince someone of something needs to come out in your marketing.  Take these experiences, these messages, these techniques and channel them into what you are marketing today.

”I have never liked posters. The passing motorist does not have time to read more than six words on a poster, and my early experience as a door-to-door salesman convinced me that it is impossible to sell anything with only six words. In a newspaper or magazine advertisement, I can use hundreds of words. Posters are for sloganeers.”
David Ogilvy – Confessions of an Advertising Man

David Ogilvy often referenced his experience in door-to-door sales as a reason behind his success in advertising.  His experience shaped how he positioned products, services and brands.  How many marketers think like sales people?  How many use their experiences outside of what they have learnt on the theory of marketing to their advantage?

“Candor compels me to admit that I have no conclusive research to support my view that jingles are less persuasive than the spoken word. It is based on the difficulty I always experience in hearing the words in jingles, and on my experience as s door-to-door salesman; I never sang to my prospects. The advertisers who believe in the selling power of jingles have never had to sell anything.”
David Ogilvy – Confessions of an Advertising Man

Use your experiences.  Find even the most tenuous of links that you can use to logically join your experiences with your problem.  From that build a solution.  Your experience gives you a fighting chance of success.  Don’t leave your exam paper blank – you have nothing to lose.