July  2015
When you don't know
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July 2015    The Headscratcher Post © Headscratchers LLC     Edition 115
Questions to ask when you don't know
In critical thinking we ask the question “Why?;  why is this important, why did this happen, why am I doing this, why is this a problem, why are you asking for that, why doesn’t this work, and hundreds of other why questions.   Inevitably you, or someone else, answers, “I don’t know”.   So now what?  Here’s a list of questions to ask when you get to “I don’t know”.

1.  Should I care?   No joke.  You need to ask yourself if knowing the answer matters.  If someone asks you what your competition's favorite color is and you don’t know, does it matter?  On the other hand, if your manager asks what the differences are between your product and the competition ...  we’ll that’s important to know.  So first determine if knowing is important, relevant, and will make a difference.

2.  Where can I find out?   Assuming knowing is important, ask; Where can I find out?  Who can I ask who might know?  What research can I do to find out?  Most things that people don’t know are already known, so the “Headscratcher” here is to figure out where to find the answer that already exists.   The internet contains nearly the entire knowledge of the human race … so if you search well, and can distinguish between what’s good information vs. being made up, it’s a good place to look.   Seek out subject matter experts who “know things” about their subject.

3.  Experiment.  When no one knows, or you have exhausted the avenues to find who knows, then it’s time to experiment to find out.   Ask; Can you do a small, low cost, minimal time, “experiment” that would provide you with answers so you can know?   It might be to send out a survey or conduct a focus group.  Maybe conduct a small trial, or build a prototype.   Experiments provide you with knowledge …. so you know.

4.  Make Assumptions.
When you care, and you’ve exhausted looking for who knows, and you can’t experiment, then you’re left with asking, “What assumptions can be made?”  What’s really important here is that you might not be able to validate your assumptions from the start.  So if you take action based on those assumptions, don’t forget to occasionally revisit them by asking “Are the assumptions we made back when, still looking good?

The Takeaway: In critical thinking when you get to “I don’t know”, first ask if you should care, then go find out, experiment, and as a last resort, make assumptions so you can know, and then look to validate them, initially, or later.

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