Knowledge is Not Power | Bruce Turkel

Recently, a large company whose name you would instantly recognize (but whom I won’t name) was about to merge and transition their business and their brand. They had brought in a well-known advertising agency (whom I also won’t name) to help them manage the transition.

The ad agency returned with 14 different campaigns to promote the change. They presented a heartfelt campaign, a financial-focused campaign, a time-saving campaign, an environmental advantages campaign, a trendy campaign, and nine other directions. Each recommendation used a different strategy and a different creative message.

The company’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) was impressed with all the work the agency had done. The CEO was confused. Not knowing which direction to go in is why they called me and asked if I could help them create a strategic direction that would solve their problem.

For the next week I did nothing but use their product, learn about their business, and work on different strategic directions. Finally, I returned with one strategic direction. My presentation included the reasons I thought the solution made sense and all of the different ways it could be used to help them get the most from their merger.

When I was done presenting, the CEO stared for a minute.. 

“Wow.” He said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

The CMO wasn’t nearly as laconic.

“Well I don’t know,” she word vomited. “I mean I like it, I guess, but it’s so simple. Could we do that? I mean it doesn’t talk about our pricing strategy; it doesn’t talk about our commercial programs. It doesn’t tell our consumers about our future plans or all of the new products we’re going to be releasing. It doesn’t really even talk about us, does it, it talks about our buyers. Which is nice, I guess, and they’ll like it, sure, but how about our investors? I mean, what’ll they think? How about the board of directors? Doesn’t the board have to like it? Should we check with them?”

She held her hand up and looked up thoughtfully. “Wait. I know. Why don’t we print it out and hang the ideas on the wall in the conference room? Then we could bring in all our employees and see what they think. They could help us decide.”

She looked into the distance. No one else spoke, so she said softly: “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is confusing.

For years we’ve been told that knowledge is power. And big data has shown us that whomever has the most information also has the biggest advantage. After all, it’s not just the “data,” it’s the “big” that makes the data so powerful.

But when it comes to professional services, your clients don’t want lots of choices. They want the best solution. And even though there’s often more than one right way to solve a problem, your clients are coming to you for your best recommendation.

What do You Want?

When you call a plumber, you don’t want to debate the benefits of copper, galvanized, or PVC fittings. You want your leak to stop quickly, inexpensively, and permanently.

When you hire an attorney, you don’t want an in-depth dissertation on contract law. You want the best advice on how to create an ironclad deal.

When you hire a keynote speaker, you don’t want a rambling presentation careening from point to point to point. You want an enlightening presentation that entertains your audience and gives them actionable information they can take with them.

Your clients come to you for your best recommendation, not a choice of 14 different ways to solve a problem.

Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is confusing. Your clients come to you for solutions.


  1. October 27, 2019

    In the Army, it was called, “completed staff work.” You didn’t just give your boss the options…you also recommended a solution.

  2. Steve Climons
    October 26, 2019

    Bruce my only question on this and it’s a big one, what if they don’t like your one solution?
    Is it your way or the highway? Having more than one solution insures that there’s more than one way to skin that cat. I’m not talking about what the agency did in overkill but making them feel the depth of your solution and experience.

    • Bruce Turkel
      November 5, 2019

      Great question, Steve, and one I’ve dealt with a lot.
      On the one hand, presenting one idea can be seen as “take it or leave it.”
      On the other hand, there’s the old saying that if you “give people two toilets they pee on the floor.”
      And then there’s The picture of Dorian Gray solution where your client will love one idea just as long as they can exercise their power and criticize the other concept.
      I don’t know what’s the right way and I think the fair viewpoint is that different clients require different responses. But even if you are presenting more than one idea, I still think you need to have a point of view and I recommendation about which is best for them.

  3. October 26, 2019

    Love this. Totally true.

  4. October 25, 2019

    A reminder which is the most important way we can serve others. I am a Holistic Life Coach and I know many things about how a person and get over some bad habits that are hurting the body’s ability to prevent disease. Thank you for helping me to keep it simple. Common sense is my first objective in improving someone’s immune system.

  5. J David Scheiner
    October 24, 2019

    This is very well said and really brings a focus to what the solution should be.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Charlie Rathburn
    October 24, 2019

    Excellent thoughts, Bruce!

  7. Dan
    October 24, 2019

    Exactly right. As a former lawyer (I don’t practice anymore because I got out of the advice giving business and “became the client”), it occurred to me that the successful partners were the old school “counsellors” upon whom clients relied for a recommendation. Not for a list of options and outcomes. A good lawyer needs to know all of the latter, but also needs to know how to build trust, understand what the client is really asking (as well as to sell). Lawyers are often labeled as poor business-people, with the underlying meaning that business and law don’t meld well in a single individual. Just tell that to the number of former lawyer CEOs. You can’t be a good business lawyer without being a competent business person. And in that vein, one should feel comfortable advising clients as to what they should do. The client is not going to hold the lawyer responsible for the outcome. The client will have adopted the suggestion for her own. But their point in seeking your advice is to embolden them to make a decision and one must be strong enough with one’s skills and training to tell the client what they would do in the same case. That’s how trust is built over the long term and how lawyers become counsellors.

    • Bruce Turkel
      November 5, 2019

      Yes, Dan. I remember the old-school “counselors” my father worked with provided him with exactly the services you’re suggesting. Thank you for the great memories.

  8. October 24, 2019

    when I go to a restaurant that has too many different meal options on the menu I feel overwhelmed! I don’t want that many options. Great post

    • Bruce Turkel
      November 5, 2019

      Recently my mom told me how my father would order at restaurants: He’d scan down the menu until he found something he liked. Then he’d close the menu, confident that he’d found what he wanted to eat. He never worried about what else was offered, what else he could choose. His theory was that if he liked the restaurant and liked the dish then he’d be happy with his order.

  9. Alan Campbell
    October 23, 2019

    Very good and so true. It takes courage along with the knowledge to make the recommendation to solve the problem. And the first key is to have clear agreement on the definition of the problem. Agencies are often so concerned with not making the right solution that they believe more will disguise the inability to define the best answer for the issue.


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