With the world – including my kids – heading back to school, this time of year has me thinking about different types of learning, the development of knowledge, the application of what we know, and how it all relates to the business world.

One of the things that I have been thinking about with my children’s education is the difference between the accumulation of knowledge and the development of “ways of thinking.”

In the education world, I think that the accumulation of knowledge sometimes gets a bad rap. But, there’s value there. For example, I want my kids to have a powerful vocabulary – ingrained knowledge that is available at a moment’s notice. Frankly, I care a lot less about whether they have a way of thinking language that helps them decipher the language of origin or whatever else the Scripps spellers need to know.

However, in other areas, I want them to gain analytical frameworks and approaches that they can apply to any situation. These skills will empower them to solve problems that are complex and unfamiliar – where the value of efficiency is trumped by creative problem solving.

In the world of brand and communications, businesses have opportunities and challenges where specific experience and expertise are most important and others where having a process and way of thinking is more valuable. In areas where speed and flawless execution are paramount, the ingrained knowledge that comes from “having done something a million times” becomes valuable and powerful. Several years back doctor and author Atul Gawande wrote an article in the New Yorker that spoke to the benefits of consistency and repetition in healthcare – when the path to the ideal outcome is the same 98% of the time, being expert in that path is more valuable than being able to improvise better than the next surgeon or businessperson.

However, more often than not, businesses seek answers to more ambiguous questions – how do we differentiate, what do we stand for, how do we create engagement, how do we tell our story, how should we innovate or disrupt. In these cases, having the right framework or approach is more powerful than industry expertise and repetition. Successful outcomes are driven by the abilities to organize and categorize information, identify what’s important from always-varying data sets, and craft a logical and compelling argument. Sometimes industry experience becomes baggage – you become more focused on how to apply what has worked the last time or for a competitor than on what could uniquely work for your brand.

One of the questions that frequently gets asked of Greenhouse Partners is “what do you guys specialize in?” The question prompts a somewhat vague and potentially frustrating-to-the-questioner answer – something like “solving complex problems through the lens of brand.” We have chosen to specialize in a way of thinking – from how we develop a project scope through execution that we can apply to any kind of business and any kind of situation.

While we have created a lot of project and industry specific expertise over the history of the company, our client list is intentionally inconsistent – b2c and b2b, product and service, large and small, established and startup. However, for businesses that have those complex challenges, we believe there is power in this diversity of experience – that solving similar-but-not-identical problems for a lot of different kinds of companies represents a unique kind of “repetition” that our clients benefit from.

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