Ever tried to find out what you don’t know?

Sometimes (quite often for me), we are faced with problems that have no answer and there is no easy way of finding an answer. For instance, “I want to know what customers did not buy product x.” “How much will sales increse if we reduce the price on item x with 15%?” “What will our sales look like if we introduce this new product next year?” “Is there a product missing in our range?

Relating to my last blog it could be a way of measuring performance to steer your business you are after.

Perhaps it is not in our nature to try to grasp what did not happen or what does not exist? If we look too hard at one detail we will miss a big truth (Inattention Blindness), at the same time, we see things that are not there or perhaps we can see patterns that exist and can explain some phenomenon. Check out this blog for more fun facts: http://www.blog.theteamw.com/2011/04/05/100-things-you-should-know-about-people-has-reached-100/.

How can we get around our human flaws and use our potential? We have devised methods to step by step get an answer. To find an answer I ask myself these 5 questions:

  1. What is the question?
  2. What do I know?
  3. What can I relate to what I don’t know?
  4. Is there a model that can help me answer my question?
  5. Who can I ask?

Process för att svara på fråga

What is the question?
This is key. Knowing the question is more important than the answer. You really need to think it through. The question is the aim, direction and caliber of the rifle, the more refined your question is, the less potential varians in answers you will get. A too narrow question might leave you just shy of your answer and a too broad question will leave you too many inconclusive answers. You also need to remember the Chinese proverb “Don’t look for shark teeth in a dog’s mouth” (or was it dog teeth in a shark mouth…), a correct question asked in the wrong place will not provide an answer or worse, you get an answer that makes no sense.

What do I know?
You don’t know nothing. Make a map of all the information you have on hand or what you can get your hands on. This can be simple if you have very little information to begin with, but it can also be very complicated. You need to map all the relationships between the information. There are plenty of free tools out there if you don’t already have one. You might need to look into grouping information in catagories, comparing catagories can simplify your models and give you less data varians. Is there a way of collecting the information I am missing? In the blog “Big data: Think Smarter, not bigger” you find some great tips on data collection (replace the S in this blog with your specific question).

What can I relate to what I don’t know?
Sometimes we can smell the breadcrumbs that lead the way. We know what data is missing and once we have this information the ultimate question can be answered. The fun part with this is that every waking moment you might have the opportunity to find that missing link.

Is there a model that can help me answer my question?
Models are used to explain complex realities in a simplified way. You don’t have to be too scentific here, build a model (A+B-C=D) and test if the outcome matches real results. But, there are a large amount of sound models/algorthms/equations out there, the tricky part is finding one that we understand and that delivers the answer to our question. What I have learned is that a combination of models is the most reliable way to go. You might have to go back to “What do I know” and build more information in order to provide your model with more information or new information. If this sparks an interest I can really recomend taking the online course “Model Thinking” at Coarsera

Who can I ask?
If I am missing vital information, is there a person, forum or expert I can turn to to find out what I need to know? How does model Q work? Where can I find information X?
I personally use my network of experts and the forums on Linked In to get input on my thoughts, there are som fantastic people out there ready to share their knowledge, you just have to ask…

If you follow these steps I am confident that you are closer to finding an answer to your unanswered questions and don’t be surprised if the answer you got raises an even more critical question!

Thank’s for reading!


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