Empathy, Ideation, Lenses, Tool, Understanding the Customer

You, Me, and Jon Snow: The Power of Knowing Nothing

Shaken, but emotionally under control, Bryan Mills (played by Liam Neeson) picks up the phone and talks to his daughter’s captor.

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.” – Liam Neeson, Taken

Like Liam Neeson’s character, I don’t have all the answers. It’s actually very cathartic to admit. Let’s say it together. Ready?

“I don’t have all the answers.”

In creative or innovative work, we sometimes feel like we should come up with new and interesting solutions on the spot. And if we can’t, no one is harder on us than ourselves. But we don’t have all the answers, nor should we.

We should have are all the questions.

Ok, maybe not ALL the questions, but a pretty good list and the skill to keep asking. At least we can channel our inner child and ask “Why?” over and over. Seriously, that’s a proven tactic. So if asking questions is the fast track to empathy, why do we feel compelled to know the answer ahead of time?

I don’t know.

youknownothing

Anticlimactic I know, but it’s true. I’ve asked myself many times, so I’m beginning to know why for me. But this is a personal quest. A side quest to be sure, but a personal one.

Let me give you some starter questions:

  • Do I feel like I need to prove my innovative spirit or creativity by readily spouting out solutions?
  • Do I feel others are expecting immediate and ground-breaking ideas?
  • Do I feel like my value drops if I have to “figure it out” in the conversation?
  • Is it related to stress, anxiety, impostor syndrome, and my fight or flight reflex?

Sherlock Mode

One of my favorite shows is Sherlock (the one with Benedict Cumberbatch). Sherlock Holmes is a character that seems to have the answer to everything, even to problems we didn’t know existed. But the show does a masterful job of showing how Sherlock’s mind (albeit fictional) works.

Time slows. We enter Sherlock’s mind. We see him call out the wet spot on the sleeve of a woman’s jacket. He internally questions how her sleeve got wet.

I try to engage my own Sherlock mode; slow it down, ask the questions.

Silence is Golden

We don’t have to shout out answers immediately. Amazing things happen when you listen and offer your ideas last. Check out this video where Simon Sinek talks about being the last to speak.

It doesn’t make us less valuable to say “I don’t know, but I want to. Help me understand.” Asking questions improves our learning. That’s why schools are promoting critical thinking and project-based learning (which involves lots of questions).

So we need to take a cue from Liam Neeson and create our own Taken-inspired,  problem-facing monolog.

“I don’t know what your problem is. I don’t know what your jobs to be done are. If you are looking for a solution I can tell you I don’t have one… YET, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very amazing career. Skills that make me a nightmare for problems like this. If you will answer my questions, that’ll be the start of it. I will look everywhere for insight, I will pursue each hypothesis, I will create tailor-made solutions for you, and I will go forth and be awesome.”

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Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation, Theme Park of You

In Pursuit of Happy Little Accidents

beingnew (1)I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.

Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.

I was comparing my first try to his second. 

There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.

“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog

You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.

dunningkrugerAs we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.

You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.

Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.

Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.

 

Being Awesome, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Paint the Fence as a Beginner

Daniel didn't balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.
Daniel didn’t balk at starting his own bonsai tree when Mr. Miyagi offered. Even though he was a beginner, the vision for the tree still lived in his mind.

The 1984 Columbia Pictures classic, Karate Kid, obscures an awesome tidbit that I had not caught before this week. The movie glosses over quickly the fact that Mr. Miyagi had never taught anyone karate. Not until Daniel needed to learn that the secret to karate is in the heart and mind, not in the hands. This is the movie’s most memorable character arcs, as Daniel learns karate while sanding the deck, waxing the cars, and painting the fence.

Mr. Miyagi does not have years of proven methods to train Daniel with. No, he thinks outside the box to give Daniel hours of practice developing strength and muscle memory. That’s because Mr. Miyagi, whether he knew it or not, was employing shoshin (the beginner’s mind).

The beginner’s mind is something we need to embrace as well. No matter if we are trying to convince an innovation from the caves of our minds to bask in the light of day, or if we are just looking to go forth and be awesome.

Try taking on a new skill and expanding what you can do. Broaden your T-shaped self. By venturing into new territory, you activate your student mindset. You look at items with fresh eyes. You are unburdened with years of “this is how we’ve always done it”. Of course those first few steps in your chosen new skill are awkward and unstable. But you get to revel in the fact that this is part of the learning process!

“Dude, suckin’ at somethin’ is the first step towards bein’ sorta good at somethin’.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time

Thinking differently is at the root of innovation. It happens in multiple ways. The traditional way is when someone gets so upset with the status quo that their thoughts break the boundaries of the typical box. They start to think of how everything can be better. These are the heretics that go against the rules. (Heretic in this sense meaning someone who goes against what is generally accepted)

Another road to innovation is when the tide of shoshin rises. Seeing things as a beginner means you don’t shy away from the boundaries. In fact you push on them to see if they give. This often leads beginners to solutions experts can’t see. Experts are weighed down by proven paths to success. To a beginner, all paths are viable from where they stand… so why not try a few?

So engage your shoshin, be a beginner at something. Then start applying that new viewpoint to your innovation. Who knows what solutions you’ll uncover?

Challenge:

  • What skill would help your innovation move forward?
  • What can you do to start learning that skill?
  • Early in your learning, look at your solution again. Are there new hypotheses to validate?