Socratic questioning

Socratic questioning is a method for achieving first principles thinking. When it comes to achieving copywriting that truly resonate with your audience, you need to apply first principles in order to truly understand your prospects.

It is done through firm analytics and a disciplined questioning process.

The power of socratic questioning can be boiled down to three main benefits:

  • Establish truths
  • Discover underlying assumptions
  • Separate knowledge from ignorance

What distinguishes this method from normal discussions is that it seeks to establish first principles in a systematic fashion.

This is the process:

Socratic Questioning
Adapted from The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts (Shane Parrish)

The main benefit of Socratic questioning is that is stops you from following your gut and sets limits on how strong you react emotionally to things.

It’s a process that builds something that lasts.

Next, let’s go through each step from a marketing perspective:

Socratic questioning: Steps to follow

1. Clarify your thinking and explain the origins of your ideas

This tweet from David Kadavy challenges the notion of having deep experience as something exclusively positive.




The replies in the tweet are an interesting case study.

In order to be an exceptional talent in an ever-changing field like marketing, you need to consistently unlearn.

Ask yourself: “Why do I think this?”

2. Challenge assumptions

It’s easy to jump on the latest tactic or “growth hack”. You want to feel that you’re taking action, and many people see a relationship between being operational and seeing results.

But no tactic fits all, and especially not out of the box.

You need to know where your target audience lives in order to choose an appropriate channel.

Just because a platform is trending does not mean it’s the right fit for you.

Ask yourself: “How do I know this is true?” “What if I thought the opposite?”

3. Look for evidence

Having gone through the first two steps in the Socratic questioning process, it’s time to create some hypotheses. My personal go-to here is to look for leading indicators within your audience. There are many ways to do this. Start with creating a cohort, either with leads in your CRM or with new targets.

Whatever the hypothesis is, run campaigns to gather a large enough sample size (depends on your traffic and engagement) to either validate or dismiss.

Ask yourself: “How can I back this up?” “What are the sources?”

4. Consider alternative perspectives

Reach out to peers. Network. Although every company is different and what might work for some might not work for you, try to identify leading or lagging indicators of things that can help you.

Ask yourself: “What might others think?” “How do I know I’m correct?”

5. Examine the consequences and implications

The campaigns you decide to roll out should be tied to your business goals. Look at the potential revenue a campaign could generate, and look at the opportunity costs of choosing this campaign over doing another one.

Ask yourself: “What if I’m wrong?” “What are the consequences if I am?”

6. Question the original questions

This is going to back to square one. Re-validate your initial questions and repeat the process if you have to. This boils down to whether you accept your restated beliefs.

Ask yourself: “Why did I think that?” “Was I correct?” “What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process?”




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