That inkling you have …

In a previous post I mentioned how saying “we don’t know” might just be a radical act. Yesterday talking to a friend over coffee (one of my favourite ways to get work done) I got to thinking about what lies between the states of knowing and not knowing.

We often talk about them as if they are like light switches, either on or off. But it’s never quite that simple is it? We know a lot of things that we don’t always act on. Exercise. Diet. Sleep.

On the radio today there was a discussion about how we know we should pay attention when driving, and yet still we get distracted by phones, drinks, the radio, other drivers and so on. Even our own thoughts distract us occasionally when we zone out and wonder how we travelled the last mile.

Of course that last situation never happens at work. We never find ourselves wondering how that last day/month/quarter disappeared, do we?

Truth is it’s not what we know or don’t know that’s the biggest issue. It’s whether we notice and pay attention while operating that most complex of machines – ourselves.

Doing that well leads us not just to what we know or don’t know, but beyond them to notice the inklings we have; the feelings or fuzzy sense that maybe, somewhere just out of reach, something even more interesting and useful might be possible.

In the 1960’s Dr Sidney Parnes called this phenomenon ‘extended effort’. He found that when trying to generate ideas people typically went through 3 phases. First they listed all the things they already knew (useful, but not new); then having run out of known ideas they started to make things up (weird, but not yet useful). It was only when they persisted through to the third phase that they started to get inklings of what something genuinely novel and useful might be.

Since Sid Parnes’ valuable and pioneering work we understand the mind a lot more and have learned other ways to get there.

To return to the start of this piece, moving from ‘know’ to ‘don’t know’ is the first step. The fun part is discovering your inklings and persisting until you can look at what you have created and happily call it ‘weird, but useful’. While making full use of what you know now, don’t you deserve the odd moment of also paying attention to your inklings?

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