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One question that will change the way you understand people

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I’m not a big romantic drama guy, but you might be surprised by the insights into human nature some of those movies can give you.

I recently watched this movie Cherry with Tom Holland. It’s about a kid returning from the army with PTSD and making really bad choices that change the entire trajectory of his life.

It starts with his love story and one scene stood out.

He’s fantasizing about his future life with this dream girl and the narration goes:

Can you look back to when you met the one you loved the most and remember exactly how it was? Not as in where you were or what she was wearing, but rather in what you saw in her that made you say, Yes, this is what I came here for.

At the risk of ruining the idyllic experience for you, I’d say that this is the perfect frame for understanding your customers.

When you ask them questions you shouldn’t just settle for the surface level details of their experience buying from you (or from a competitor). But rather, dig deeper, get to the feelings and emotions that moved them to making that decision.

These feelings often manifest as a mirror. Prospects see something in your product or service that makes them say “yes this is what I came here for”.

How do you dig this deep?

Luckily for us, someone else figured out a great research approach. Master biographer Robert Caro just asks one question in his interviews, over and over: “What did you see?“.

It’s a question that cuts to the core of his pursuit for vivid, sensory detail in his narratives. It’s a deceptively simple question that unpacks rich, descriptive layers of a scene or an event from a witness’s perspective.

Here’s why this question is so powerful:

  • Evokes sensory details: Asking “What did you see?” prompts the person to go over not just the events, but the visual elements, the setting, the players, and the atmosphere. It can elicit details that might otherwise be considered too mundane or obvious to mention, but which are crucial for setting a scene or understanding a situation.
  • Encourages specificity: This question steers the respondent away from generalities and abstract summaries. It demands specifics, which are the building blocks of a compelling narrative.
  • Unlocks memories: Visual cues are often strong triggers for memory. By asking someone to describe what they saw, Caro can unlock a flood of other details and memories associated with the visual elements.
  • Reveals the witness’s perspective: It also subtly invites the interviewee to share their own point of view, which can illuminate their personal biases, focus, and feelings about the event.
  • Bypasses prepared narratives: When people prepare to be interviewed, they often rehearse certain stories or points they want to make. Asking them to describe what they saw can circumvent these prepared narratives and lead to more spontaneous and revealing accounts.
  • Facilitates emotional connection: Descriptions of a setting or event are more likely to resonate emotionally with readers, helping them to visualize and feel the story, rather than just process information.

When you approach your research this way a whole new world of insights and breakthroughs opens up. Because asking the right questions gives you the context you need to truly persuade your people.

How do you adapt the “What did you see?” question to your interviews?

Here are a couple of variants you can mix and match:

  1. “What was your experience when you first used our product?”
  2. “Can you walk me through a typical day of using our service?”
  3. “How did our solution change the way you handle [specific task/problem]?”
  4. “Describe the moment you realized our product was right for you.”
  5. “What specific features do you find most beneficial, and why?”
  6. “What frustrations did you face before finding our solution?”
  7. “Tell me about a time our product helped you overcome a challenge.”
  8. “If you were to recommend our product to a friend, what would you say?”
  9. “What almost stopped you from purchasing our product?”
  10. “How would you describe your decision-making process for choosing our product?”

Let me know if you end up using some of these!

But most of all, remember to dig deeper.

📚 3 things to get better at copywriting

1. What’s your personal monopoly?

David Perell has a very interesting perspective on positioning. He calls it Personal Monopoly. It’s your unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits and offers a different spin on why sometimes you might want to go the opposite way as everyone else:

Your Personal Monopoly should reflect your innate interests, not what you think the world wants. There are two reasons why: (1) the Internet creates power law outcomes so if you’re not fascinated by what you’re writing about, you won’t be world-class at it, and (2) due to the immense scale of the Internet, the audience for almost every topic numbers in the thousands. If you’re chasing a trend, you’ve already lost.

When spreading your message, your value proposition, sometimes it’s worth distancing yourself from the trends and being polarizing.

2. How confident are you?

Great piece by Morgan Housel on the different levels of confidence. Going back to interviewing, keep these in mind whenever you’re considering how confident your audience is about what they tell you.

3. Mark Manson on writing and interviewing

I really enjoyed this Mark Manson interview. He goes into his writing process and approach, and also into what working on Will Smith’s biography was like. Felt in tune with today’s topic of interviewing.

✅ Don’t miss it

  • I just posted a guide to one of my favorite thinkers, Ethan Mollick on my Substack. If you want to get into AI or are curious about my approach and “philosophy” on it, this can help.

🤔 Thought of the week

“The way we view the world is a confession of character.”

– Wes Watson, Non-Negotiable

Every moment you’re broadcasting what you want the world to give you. Be mindful of what you put in.

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