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Your main objective here is to analyze the data you have collected critically, analytically and constructively. This will help you to remove any hidden assumptions or conclusions you may have reached during the fact-find sub-stage.
In order to clarify things you must question conventional wisdom and define only the relevant information you need to help you overcome your problem. Moreover, to clarify things means removing all obstacles that may prevent you from understanding all the facts and issues surrounding the problem.
During parts of this sub-stage you will be asking how much and how many questions, and you will be using graphs and charts to represent this information visually. In other words, you are looking for quantitative representations of the information using quantities or numbers. For instance, you may need to clarify the costs, ages, levels, time, speed, volume, height, length, area, etc. Your goal is to show actual numbers and relative amounts.
Throughout this sub-stage you will be actively analyzing the data while taking into consideration possible fallacies and unhelpful thinking styles that may prevent you from seeing the entire picture from an unbiased perspective.
Let’s now explore this sub-stage in a little more detail.
Analyze the Data
Analyzing means examining the data you have acquired methodically for the purpose of explanation and interpretation. It also means discovering and revealing new insights and perspectives that you will need to take under consideration. Moreover, it involves the step-by-step approach for breaking down complex problems or processes to their constituent parts while identifying cause-effect relationships and patterns.
Chunking Up and Down
In order to begin analyzing the data thoroughly, we must learn how to chunk the data in order to gain a variety of angles and perspectives.
The main objective here is to ask questions that will help you to gain both a macro and micro perspective of the highest level components of the problem you are facing. This may help shift your understanding of the problem under question, which subsequently could open your mind to the possibility of new solutions and ideas. You may likewise unlock patterns and causes that you originally may not have been aware of.
The smaller chunking groups will help you to grasp larger pieces of information more easily, while the larger chunking groups allow you to see how the smaller pieces fit into a larger interconnected canvas. However, before you begin chunking, you need to first understand the scope of the problem.
Understanding the Scope
Here you must come to understand the complete set of problems that surround the problem you are working with. You must therefore construct a hierarchy that will help you understand the scope of the problem you are trying to solve.
To begin with, list all the related problems that are in some way associated with the problem you have identified and defined. Group these problems into related categories and start ordering them from highest to lowest. This grouping process will allow you to get a good scope of problems and avoid the mistake of being too focused or too narrow in your approach.
The following questions will help you to get started:
- What problems are related to the main problem?
- Which of these problems is the most important to solve?
- Which problem is the next most important to solve?
As you build your hierarchy, keep in mind how all the problems are interconnected with each other, and determine how solving one of these problems will help you to solve other related problems. Often the problems at the top of your hierarchy will be the problems with the most influence upon other problems.
Consider Skipping Problem
It is worthwhile at this stage to take the highest priority problem you have identified, and decide to skip-it.
A typical approach would be to grab the problem and try to solve it. The problem with this approach is that in order to solve the problem, you need to engage the problem — which can often get you into a sticky situation.
The key to unraveling these high priority problems is to recognize that the problem you are confronted with is in fact not the real problem. The real problem actually lies hidden behind all the distractions that you think are your real problems.
To skip your problem means that you step outside of yourself and the circumstances in order to gain a clearer perspective. By skipping it, you are setting your mind free to engage with the real problem.
Your problem is like the top layer of an onion. Your objective is to peel it back by listing all the components of the problem. Now, keep peeling the onion until you find the one core problem you must address. One way to do this is the ask why questions:
- Why is that a problem?
- And why is that a problem?
Chunking-up refers to moving to more general or abstract pieces of information. When asking chunking-up questions, you will often start with a specific example, and then move towards more general examples. These types of questions essentially divide information into smaller chunks or groups in order to help you grasp larger pieces of information more easily.
You are effectively trying to see your problem from a macro perspective, identifying how this problem interrelates with other problems — helping you to better understand the various problems that surround your main problem. Keep in mind though, that every solution creates more lower-level problems. So every problem is the result of a solution above where a higher problem sits. In other words, lower-level problems are dependent on higher-level problems and their solutions.
To chunk-up, ask yourself the following questions:
- How can I expand my view of this information/problem to gain a wider perspective?
- What is this an example of?
- What is this a part of?
- What is the intention?
- For what purpose?
Analyze the Data
Take a look at the data you have collected about your problem and consider all the relevant numbers, figures and statistics you will need to clarify in order to gain the necessary insights you need to make more effective decisions about the data. Consider financial obligations, how much you’re spending, saving, how many units of something are required; the wide-ranging effects of increases and decreases of certain variables, etc.
This is where you spend time graphing these variables out and ask the how much, and how many questions.
Having clarified the above information, ask yourself:
- What does this piece of data tell me?
- What does this really mean?
- Am I seeing the full picture here?
- Is there more to this?
- How can I find out more?
- How do I know this is accurate?
It’s important at this stage not to get emotionally involved with your findings. To help you avoid making any unnecessary generalizations or conclusions, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there enough evidence, or do I need more information?
- Does this make logical sense?
- Is this a fact or just an opinion?
- What if one of my key assumptions is wrong?
- How could these assumptions be contributing to this problem?
- Do any incongruities exist within this data I have collected?
An incongruity is a discrepancy between what is and what “ought” to be, or between what is and what everyone assumes it to be.
Measure the Impact
It’s important to also understand the impact of the problem and the consequences that may result if certain decisions are made or not made. To help you with this analysis, ask yourself the following questions:
- How can I measure the impact of this problem?
- How much of an impact has the problem had?
- In what way are the consequences felt?
- How can I measure the consequences of this problem?
- What will happen if I ignore it?
- When could it become a bigger concern?
- What could lead to this outcome?
- How does this affect me, others and my life or business?
- How could I potentially be responsible for creating and sustaining this problem?
- Could resolving this problem create additional problems?
Clarify the Activities
Attached to every problem is a set of activities that you or others are involved with. These activities will provide you with deeper insight into the problem and its impact on your business, life and circumstances. Ask yourself:
- Why are things done the way they are done?
- How important are each of these activities that I/we undertake?
- What is the real purpose of each of these activities?
- What activities or things could be eliminated?
Gain Different Perspectives
We’ve already discussed perspectives in a little detail within the chunking section. Here, you are also looking for different perspectives, however these perspectives you are searching for come from other people.
Other people’s view of the problem and the circumstances surrounding the problem will most likely differ from yours. Moreover, their perspective might in fact provide unique insights that you might be able to take advantage of to help you solve your problem.
Take other people’s perspectives you collected during the fact-find sub-stage and ask yourself:
- What is X’s perception of this?
- What would they tell me if they could?
Within the data you have collected, analyzed and clarified to date, there will most certainly be opportunities that you should be able to take advantage of that might help you to solve the problem/s you are currently facing. In fact, within any pattern or trend that you identify within this data, there will always be the potential for discoveries for new solutions and ideas. You must however, take the time now to pinpoint these opportunities within the environment and within the data you have collected. Ask yourself:
- What opportunities exist that I could potentially take advantage of here?
- Where could I potentially look for solutions to this problem?
- Who could potentially assist me with this problem?
Opportunities can often be found within seven key areas. These areas mainly apply to businesses, however most of them can also be intertwined into personal problems that you might currently be working through.
- Unexpected Events: These are unforeseen failures, successes, and other surprises. It’s always worth probing the reasons behind why things happen.
- Incongruities: These are gaps between expectations and reality.
- Process Needs: These are bottlenecks and wasteful steps in existing processes, habits and routines that are part of your life or business.
- Sudden Changes: These are changes within industries, technologies, work or home environments, etc.
- Demographics: These are political, social, religious, etc, changes that may provide opportunity for change or innovation.
- Mood or Perception: These are changes in mood, attitude or perception that could open doors to new opportunities.
- New Knowledge: Any new knowledge can transform understanding and personal perspectives, which can lead to new insights and opportunities.
Journaling and Meditation
It can of course be difficult to spot these opportunities upon first glance. However, this is where journaling and meditation can come into play.
Journaling simply means to keep notes of what you are observing, how you interpret what you are observing, and what decisions you end up making. Journaling can actually help you to become a very keen observer by tracing the development of ideas right through to the decision-making process. Journaling is actually a habit of geniuses, and a critical component of visual thinking.
Meditation can help you to clear the chatter from your mind, which can likewise help remove distractions, thereby clarifying thinking and effectively widening your current frame of reference.
Gaining More Insights
Finally, it’s important to never close yourself off from the possibility that you might not yet have all the information you need to solve the problem you are facing. To help you with this, be vigilant and regularly ask the following two questions:
- What am I not asking?
- What am I missing here?
Fallacies and Unhelpful Thoughts
A fallacy is a mistake or belief based on unsound arguments. An unhelpful thought is a way of thinking that clouds your judgement or perspective of the problem or circumstances surrounding the problem. It can prevent you from seeing new possibilities and can therefore hold you back from pinpointing key ideas that could provide solutions to the problem/s you are dealing with.
It’s important to keep under consideration the impact that fallacies and unhelpful thoughts can have on your interpretations of events and circumstances. If you allow them to cloud your judgement, than you may very well fail to see things clearly, and this could lead to further problems rather than the solutions and answers you are after.
Here are some examples of common unhelpful ways to go about solving your problems along The Path:
- Mistaking that what worked for one person will work for you.
- Mistaking that what worked once will work again.
- Mistaking that what worked in the past (even yesterday) will work in the present.
- Mistaking that a widely accepted idea is indeed a fact.
- Mistaking random occurrences as patterns and trends.
- Mistaking serendipity as acumen.
- Mistaking that a single isolated factor triggered an entire event.
- Mistaking that because someone has credentials or experience that they know what they’re talking about.
- Mistaking that what happens first causes what happens next without considering other possibilities.
- Mistaking while investigating that a confirmation of one’s beliefs indicates truth.
- Making broad generalizations upon little evidence or upon biased perspectives.
- Blowing things out of proportion and making them bigger than they really are.
- Mistaking your emotions as evidence of truth.
- Seeing only extremes and no middle ground.
- Making quick conclusions based on little to no evidence.
While working through your problem it’s important to always seek irrefutable facts, evidence and sources. Moreover, test your methodology, conclusions, how conclusions were reached and consider the role of coincidence and chance. Don’t make any assumptions, don’t jump to quick conclusions, because the solution to your problem rests firmly in your hands.
How can I visualize this?
Integrated into this stage is a set of visual thinking techniques, strategies, tools and processes that you can utilize to help you visualize your thoughts on paper or in physical form. These techniques will be revealed and integrated into each stage along The Path over time.