I've been thinking a lot this past month about how to gain better understanding. I'll probably have a few more posts about the topic soon, including how to think more critically about everything as well as how to better read and retain information. But a few thoughts for now:
One key to understanding is writing. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in my post Why Writing Out Your Ideas is the Key to Better Understanding.
If you can’t concisely and clearly write about a topic, you don’t understand it. Writing about a topic means really thinking about it. And not just superficially, because all of us can tell within a few sentences if someone is bullshitting. Hopefully you can tell that about yourself even quicker. To write something out helps to drive thinking about the topic."
This is one of the reasons why Amazon adopted writing over presentations. It can be too easy to BS your way through a presentation. But its much tougher to do that in a document. Especially because you have to fool yourself first and then fool everyone else.
Another key to understanding I believe is finding insight. This can be a process in itself, involving thinking deeply through a problem, studying it, probably writing about it per my suggestion above, but then also allowing space for our subconscious mind to ruminate on an issue.
In an interesting podcast episode, John Kunios explores how we can get more "Aha" moments in our lives. Personally, I'm a big fan of finding these Aha moments. I like to take frequent walks throughout the day to allow myself some time to think as well as allow myself some time to let my mind wander.
To gain understanding, you have to be willing to ask questions as well. It is so easy to assume that we know all the answers. Most of us want that to be true. It is difficult to think that we don't know all the answers. We may fear losing face, losing credibility, or simply looking foolish in front of friends or colleagues.
I wrote about this in a short story this month as well, called Speaking Your User's Language. It was about my son being able to get to the heart of a problem my daughter was having by understanding what she wanted. He got there by asking the right questions.
Finally, in order to truly understand, we need to have empathy. As a product person, I talk about this a lot. Most product managers and people in product development talk about empathy for users all the time. It's funny though, because often our calls for empathy are very siloed. We seem to fall into the trap of domain dependence, where we call for empathy for users of our products but forget to call for empathy in other areas (like the person who takes the escalator rather than the stairs on the way to the gym).
So I'll call for empathy here. Not just for our products or users, but everywhere. As we try to gain a better understanding of people in general, as well as the problems we're facing, we'll be better able to tackle issues and make things better. Not just for our users or customers, but for everyone.
Best of the Rest
Additional Links of Interest:
Favorite Books from The Month:
Got through fewer books this month, but there were some really good ones: