Walter Simonsen, a wonderful comic book artist, posted this picture to his Facebook page with the caption “Suddenly, it all makes sense!”
It made me think of a trite saying “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The first time I heard this was in a high level meeting with several aerospace engineers and a local salesperson. This was not good news at the time, but a great reminder to always take a moment to consider the aspects of a problem that I am not even aware of. It seems like a contradiction, if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you even be aware of what you don’t know? One technique that has been useful is to calmly ask questions and actually listen to the answers. It is amazing how often customers, coworkers, and even competitors will drop hints and sometimes even just “spill the beans” about critical missing pieces of information. This technique can also provide insight into an entirely different ways of looking at a problem, a deeper order that might be present in a complex problem that simplifies and points the way to a solution. So the next time you “can’t get your head around a problem” take a moment to ask basic questions. The responses you get will definitely surprise you and might provide clues to an unexpected solution.