Type to search

Interdisciplinary insights part 2: Marketer meets his high-school maths teacher


Interdisciplinary insights part 2: Marketer meets his high-school maths teacher


Ken Murray continues a series where he’ll be sitting down with colleagues and contacts from a diverse range of disciplines, to find out what marketers can learn. For this article, Ken talks to his high school teacher about learning styles and then sees how they apply to effective communications.


Anyone who had that Good Will Hunting moment in school probably has a special teacher they’ll never forget.

Last month we began this series by acknowledging there are exceptional people in every occupation – star profiles.

Now, when it comes to high schools, admittedly I don’t know what it is like anymore (are iPads on the school stationery list now?) but back in my day, school was not the place everyone wanted to be.

Yet, looking back, my alumni and I had a teacher who could intrinsically motivate us to come to class, sit through and even enjoy applied mathematics.

Mr Whitely (James Whitely) has a serious knack for teaching. Anyone who had him as a teacher through school reading this now has a knowing smile on their face as they nod enthusiastically. Five out of five on Ratemyteacher? Even the hottest restaurants on Yelp have their naysayers.

The world is full of diverse people who are motivated differently, so for one teacher to create a consistent experience through years of school is quite remarkable – kids are tough critics!

I caught up with Mr Whitely to discover how his secrets to motivating us worked, where others wouldn’t: Gen Ys and Millennials!

James Whitely: “Most of the time, the disconnect between teachers and students occurs when the students question the purpose behind what they’re learning. As soon as you’re out of touch with your purpose you begin to disengage from your studies, work or life. We’ve all been at points in life where we are questioning and losing sight of the purpose behind the work we’re engaged in and this is even more prevalent in students who lack the life experience to see how to apply their newly found knowledge in the real world.

“Just curious… have you had much use for applied mathematics or Algebra in the marketing field?”

Ken Murray: I think I have, not just for statistics and data analysis, budgets but general problem solving and root cause analysis the muscles or more accurately (probably) neuro-pathways I can see the relationship between the two.

JW: “That’s because you’ve always been a ‘what if’ learner.”

KM: What if? Like was I the annoying kid always looking for the exception to the rule?

JW: “No, a what-if learner, like yourself tries to see how concepts and knowledge crosses over to other areas outside of itself. Like you just said you apply mathematical principles to backtrack problems logically.

“Let’s say, if we are to subscribe to psychological profiling, to categorise people – which I’m not the biggest fan of, in theory there are four main learning styles;

  1. Why,
  2. what,
  3. how, and
  4. what if.


“In practice everyone’s a mixture and can relate to all of them on some level. In short if you can relate to students on these four main levels you can usually find something that works.”

KM: So a why learner needs to be in touch with the purpose of the activity their engaged in, the what if learner needs to see what else the knowledge can be applied to? WHAT and HOW?

JW: “What you’re looking for is what turns the lights on inside people’s minds, ultimately it all comes down to what people can relate to.

“I’m sure you remember a few times using examples like, if you and a few mates go out to dinner and one of them bails early, some people put in extra money for the bill but you’re short $27.45, how do you work out the bludger. You know how it goes.

“There are real-world practices for everything we learn just depends how imaginative you can be. If you can translate a concept into something people can relate to that message is communicated more effectively, people can learn more efficiently, which helps them enjoy it.

“I think we all like to learn we just associate it with struggle and the belief that learning is hard to do and hard to use. ‘What’ type learners need to learn conceptually the big picture of what the topic is, once they get that the steps in the process become apparent.

“A lot of students think they learn this way then they get to exams and usually don’t perform. However, when we introduced the Levels 1 to 8 of outcome based learning metrics we found there were students who could demonstrate a level of understanding that was quite high relative to their peers even if their end result was wrong, which was interesting.

“‘How’ learners need to know the steps, the sure-fire approach, the repetition and examples, the homework you were supposed to do that I saw you rushing through as I went around the classroom. It is practice makes perfect, a defined approach.”

KM: Based on this approach, it sounds like an effective teacher is an effective communicator, which is more than just charisma; it is the willingness to take a different approach that connects to fundamentally different individuals, sounds like good marketing to me.

JW: “Or good teaching, hopefully.”



Let’s consider these four learning styles as a framework for effective communication, especially with the second concept Mr Whitely shared with me on relating readily understood examples to new concepts or products:

1. Why

This considers the customer’s individual circumstances, what the value proposition needs to represent, positioned in a way that relates to their end-goal or avoiding a specific pain or problem.

  • Example 1: Tradie buys most expensive drill, because his last one broke on the job. Why? Because he does not want a repeat of that scenario.
  • Example 2: Technology company pitches a flexible CRM to a business with non-integrated systems and will carry out the migration of data from their old CRM, integration between the new CRM, their website and ERP at a fixed project cost. Why? Because unexpected hours of implementation costs can spiral a project out of budget.

2. What

Defining the features of a product/proposition.

  • Example 1: Made for tough jobs, it reads on the label ‘10,000 hour guarantee.’
  • Example 2: CRM will integrate with other systems and mean a more holistic data informed approach to managing customers and informing business decisions on a larger scale.

3. How

The straightforward evidence of its application.

  • Example 1: Videos and peer testimonials/recommendations of its longevity, user manual and tips.
  • Example 2: Consulting, support and training for CRM personnel and learning modules.

4. What if

The added benefits outside of the product.

  • Example 1: One drill that will outlast all others, cordless with two spare batteries and a car charger adapter, so he can use it 11 hours a day.
  • Example 2: Fully integrated CRM means only one database connection which will save on other program licenses, more efficient system means people are less bogged down and able to keep up with high growth (scalable solution) without having to hire new team members.



What I took away from this short catch up was invaluable, I’m really seeing for myself there’s something to learn from everyone and like Mr Whitely the people I’m meeting are most likely humble and willing to share with anyone who’s genuinely interested.

Let’s make it a practice to break our silos – we can all learn from each other.

Merry Christmas, my fellow marketers!

Ken Murray

Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B.  Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.

  • 1

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment