In the first two parts of our discussion, we established how our brains lie to us and why there is very little that we can do to prevent it. In the context of problem solving, overcoming the effects of our heuristics requires us to be aware of our propensity to err, and to engage the brain in deeper levels of thinking. Go and See is a mentally demanding activity that helps us to overcome some, but not all of our cognitive biases. In part three, we’ll continue the development of the Go See DaT technique and will discuss how the simple acts of drawing and teaching can guard us against the negative effects of our intuitive thought processes.
Step 2 of the Go See DaT Technique: Draw a Diagnostic
Going and seeing alone does not guarantee that we have thoroughly grasped the current condition. Because we struggle to recognize when our brains are lying to us, it’s important to validate what we see to ensure that our assessment is accurate and complete. How? The first step is to put down on paper the understanding that we would otherwise keep only in our minds. While it sounds simplistic, drawing is a powerful way to test our understanding, especially at the detailed-level. Skeptical? Try it for yourself.
Take a minute to visualize the outline of the United States of America (or your country of origin if you live outside of the U.S.). To make it easier, we’ll consider only the lower 48 states. Hopefully, this is an image with which you are familiar and have seen countless times before. Note that in your mind, you likely have an easy time generating a relatively clear image. Now, take another minute, and in as much detail as you can, draw the picture that is currently in your head. Compare your results here. Sure, you remember the big picture; anyone would likely be able to tell what you were trying to draw. But, how did you do on the details? Did you remember the Puget Sound? San Francisco Bay? The Outer Banks of North Carolina? What about Long Island or the Delmarva Peninsula? Perhaps Florida is sticking out a few hundred miles too far into the Atlantic Ocean? See a pattern? Drawing tests the depths of our understanding by exposing us to the details we tend to overlook.
Numerous studies and researchers (see here and here for examples) have demonstrated that drawing significantly enhances the extent to which we learn, although there is still debate on exactly how the enhancement works. A leading hypothesis suggests that drawing forces us to make the details of our knowledge explicit, thereby exposing both our tacit knowledge – knowledge that is difficult to communicate in words, like explaining to someone else how to whistle – or where there are gaps in our understanding. In other words, drawing forces us to activate deeper regions of the brain that differentiate between what we don’t know that we know and what we just don’t know.
Drawing of the current state may take on multiple forms, such as graphs, charts, maps, schematics, or sketches. Although the A3 format provides a universal canvas on which to sketch the current state – as well as the other phases of the problem solving cycle – there is often confusion about what exactly to draw. The main point to remember is that problem solving is a process, and that the output of one step in the process should serve as an input into the next step. In other words, draw the current state in a way that helps to diagnose the causes of the problems that are observed. What exactly the right visual is depends on the specific problem we are attempting to solve; however common examples to start with include material and information flow diagrams (a.k.a, value stream maps), standardized work charts, or customer journey maps.
Step 3 of the Go See DaT Technique: Teach to Others
Social interaction is perhaps the most cognitively demanding activity in which we routinely engage. During the course of even a very simple conversation, our brains perform a wide variety of complex tasks including:
- comprehending what is being said
- analyzing voices for tone and inflection
- reading body language and facial expressions
- monitoring adherence to social norms of behavior
- suppressing and expressing emotional responses
And all of this occurs before we have said a single word in response! When we interact with others, the number and complexity of mental processes require that we engage nearly every region within our brains, which can be both a blessing and a curse. The difficulty of social interaction has likely resulted in quite a number of awkward moments in our lives. However, in the context of problem solving, we can rely on the increase in mental activity produced by socialization as the ultimate validation of our grasp on the current condition.
When we teach others, we strengthen our own understanding in a number of ways. The act of explaining exposes the gaps in our knowledge, and helps us to understand what we do know at a deeper level; the examples we provide, the questions we answer and the connections we make to our existing knowledge all help to develop a fuller understanding of the information. Teaching also requires that we organize our understanding in a coherent and consistent way, exposing our underlying assumptions and the holes in our logic. But most importantly, socializing the information creates additional perspectives from which to base our understanding.
As was demonstrated previously, when our perspectives change, what we see can be altered dramatically. Relying only on our own perspective is like viewing the world with one eye closed. We lack the depth of understanding for which we cannot compensate without incorporating the third dimension; that is to say, without adding additional perspective. Linking to others’ points of view brings different sets of assumptions, expectations and contexts together, yielding a more complete picture and a deeper level of understanding. Simply find another with a fresh perspective and an open mind, grab your drawing and go the gemba together with the goal of walking away with a single, unified view of the current condition. It is quite possible that no other single action in the realm of problem solving can generate such a great return for such a small price.
Putting It All Together
The human brain is quite possibly the single most complex and advanced object in our world. But despite all of its truly remarkable capabilities, in many ways our mental processes have not advanced beyond our innate instincts for survival. Thinking deeply requires us to expend large quantities of energy, and so we default to the use of mental shortcuts to reduce the cerebral load. Although these shortcuts significantly increase the speed at which we are able to decide, the penalty is that we are prone to significant errors in judgment.
Overcoming our cognitive biases is easy in principal, but requires us to recognize those situations in which we are likely to react based on incomplete information, fail to adequately test our understanding or infer causal relationships where none exist. In these situations, we must simply acknowledge that we are likely to err and take the steps necessary to engage the energy-demanding parts of our brain that are responsible for deeper thinking. The Go See DaT technique provides a practical, flexible and effective approach with which to initiate the problem solving process. The well-established practice of Go and See provides a solid foundation on which to build our assessment of the current state, but additional effort is needed to validate the depth of our understanding. By drawing a diagnostic of the problem and by teaching what we have learned to others, we put the whole of our mental capabilities to use in forming an accurate, holistic and three-dimensional grasp on the current condition.
Although the 10% myth has been busted by science, what remains true is that our remarkable brains have nearly endless potential to solve problems, and by extension, to improve our world. Recognize that the power to put the other 90% to use is just a matter of accepting our flaws and taking deliberate action to challenge our thinking and to broaden our perspective. More simply, all we need to do is just Go See DaT.