Every day we’re presented with challenges, big, small, it’s all part of the day. As we go through our day we rarely stop and think about how to best approach them. Why? Because we’re on autopilot, and follow the same approach we always have.
Some challenges are more complex, they require a different approach. We’ll get the same results when we approach non-complex problems the same way we always have, because we’re going to be stuck in the same perspective; and one perspective is no perspective.
This affects our perception, decision making, problem solving skills; our ability to make a bigger impact. It doesn’t have to be this way!
- King Arthur’s Round Table;
- The Phoenix Checklist;
- A day in the life
- Vuja dé
King Arthur’s Round Table
My personal favorite is King Arthur’s (my middle name) Round Table method for perspective shifting. At the table sit people from all walks of life (living, dead, imaginary, fantasy, fictitious) which I choose to see from their perspective whenever I don’t want to get stuck in my perspective.
The people you choose to put in your round table have a unique perspective in how they approach challenges. For example, some of my favorite people are Michael Jackson, Walt Disney, Napoleon Bonaparte, Captain Jean Luc Picard, Alexander The Great, Elon Musk, Michael Jordan.
Why is this method so powerful? Because you create a portfolio of perspectives that you can come back to again and again. Another way to look at this is from the perspective of a bow hunter, as you’ll you have different types of arrows in your quivver.
Typical questions are: How would _____ approach this challenge? What questions would _____ ask about this challenge? What would _____ find interesting about this challenge? What would _____ do?
The Phoenix Checklist
When you need to make sure you’re asking the right questions, use the Phoenix Checklist. This is a favorite of mine! The Phoenix Checklist originated in the CIA, it’s a list of 40 questions agents use to see situation from all angles. By asking the right questions, we can begin to look at your situation in different ways, refine and solve it.
To get started using the Phoenix Checklist, begin with a problem statement and then work your way through the more than 40 questions; you will revise answers, and problem statement, as new insights appear. Below is a sample list of questions from the Phoenix Checklist:
- Why do we need to solve this problem?
- What benefits will you get when you solve this problem?
- What do we know? What don’t we know for sure?
- What is not the problem?
- What would happen if we drew a picture of the problem?
A day in the life
When you need to understand people’s lives, become them by living their life. This is also a favorite of mine because there’s no better way to experience someone’s perspective than to literally put yourself in their shoes.
Putting yourself in another person’s shoes sitting across from them is one way to understand them, but more powerful is to live their life. This is called ethnography, and it’s the most powerful tool available to every innovator because you will discover the unarticulated needs of people, and really understand how they live.
How do you practice it?
Just do it. Want to understand the life of a Chef? The life of a pilot? The life of a nurse? Want to know about all the challenges they face? Become one for a week and you’ll get a good idea. It’s important to withhold judgment, and keep an open mind; you’re learning and gaining a different perspective.
Remember, we all make assumptions about this and that. But, we’re really ignorant until we really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and live their lives.
When you need to look at a problem in a different way, invert it. Inversion helps us see the same problem from a different lens, by looking at it upside down. Popularized by Charlie Munger, inversion can help you understand what your solution should avoid instead of focusing on what to accomplish.
Charlie Munger described inversion this way: “Don’t think about what you want. Think about what you want to avoid.”
In the realm of decision making, we rarely think about why we make bad decisions. We usually just make them and consider the positives. But if we invert our approach, we’ll think through all the reasons why we make bad decisions. Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance when you invert; the upside is you think more clearly.
“The framing of a problem is often far more essential than its solution.” – Albert Einstein
When you need to look at a problem from a different way, reframe it. Reframing means changing your perspective on a problem by looking at it from different angles and defining it differently. Usually, it will involve rewording your problem statement in a way that changes how you approach the challenge.
How does it work in practice?
I have a friend who was facing a career challenge a few years ago. He was trying to get promoted to Operations Manager, but his employer was thinking of bringing in a person with an MBA who was less experienced. Initially, he framed the challenge as, “how can I compete with MBA co-workers? The obvious answer was to spend tens of thousands of dollars for an executive MBA.
But, with a little help from me, he reframed the challenge differently to get other solutions such as, “how can I get rewarded for my expertise without an MBA?” This problem statement made him think about starting his own consulting business (which he did).
How you frame your initial challenge determines the potential paths you can take.
We all know déjà vu–looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve been there before. But what’s more valuable is vuja dé–looking at a familiar situation with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never seen it before, and with those fresh eyes developing a new line of sight into the future.
It takes effort because you have to deliberately adopt the mindset of a child, where you have no beliefs and assumptions about what you see; it’s all new to you. The way to do this is to question everything; just like a child would.
Take a chair for example, we’ve all seen them and know what they look like and how they work. Well, put all those beliefs and assumptions on hold and question them. Why does a chair work the way it does? Why is it useful? Why is it made this way? Why does it have four legs? Why is the back arched that way?
You get where I’m going with this. You could easily call this method the famous 5 Why’s, I think Vuja Dé sounds more interesting 🙂
Bottom line: Alan Kay once said that perspective is worth more than IQ. He wasn’t wrong. All of the 6 methods above will enhance your ability to see differently and anew!