A couple of days ago, during a call with a client and after they had briefed me, they asked for my feedback. I provided my feedback on the plan from a number of different perspectives and could quickly tell that the client was surprised. As we approached the end of the call, the lead from the client side said thank you, and that I had raised a number of good issues and questions, and that she could not understand how only having 30 minutes of knowledge of the product I could do provide all of these other perspectives when the team had been working on the plan for six-months or more and none of these issues had come up. My response was that was the value in having an external party take an asymmetric look.
We tend to approach life and problems from a logical step-by-step approach. We examine what we can, and based on that examination, knowledge, and experience make judgements that tag things as true, partially true, or false. Based upon these judgements, we then make a decision. And generally these types of approaches work – they give us a solution to the problem we are facing.
For example, when deciding which way to get to the grocery store, we examine different possible paths, whether or not they will get us to our end goal, what are other criteria that we need to include, and what does our experience tell us about various approaches. And most often, yes, we wind up at the store successfully.
But are they always correct and do they give us necessarily the best solution? Not always. Continuing the example, we generally don’t take into account that our knowledge is incomplete so we may not know where road construction is taking place or that the store had to close early today. We don’t have anyone to challenge our assumptions, to ask us to clearly delineate what we expect and what we don’t.
I am not saying critical thinking isn’t important and effective. It definitely is. But it may not always be the most appropriate.
Thinking asymmetrically requires lateral thinking – to approach a problem from an creative or indirect approach that sets aside the traditional critical and logical methodologies. The aim is not to provide the “normal answer set” but a different, perhaps unbalanced or what might be seen as weird set of answers to a problem.
Some key questions I use as I examine problems for asymmetric solutions are:
- What is everyone thinking? Why?
- What has already been done? What has not been done?
- What are the things that no one else is considering? Why?
- What is expected to happen? What would not be expected?
- Are there illogical or implausible or outrageous options? Why are they not considered?
Don’t assume there is only one answer and don’t assume that the correct answer is already known.