Remember a time when you had a task to finish but you ran into a bottleneck where things just stopped making sense?
During my time in data automation, my work heavily involved revamping processes so they were more efficient. I usually had the results of the old process to compare my model against. However I always ran into times when I would get stuck. The numbers just weren’t tying.
Developing the ability to overcome those times taught me a lot. But I had to get through the nonsense to appreciate that.
Whether you are building your own business or furthering your career, honing this ability to make sense of “nonsense” can go a long way towards success.
The Usual Scenario
Imagine you’re tackling a challenging project with set metrics to reach. You’re making great progress and things seem to be going according to plan. Then you hit a roadblock. Naturally you stop to take a look and implement a solution based on your past experience. But when you test your work against your metrics, it still falls short.
Eventually the frustration builds up and you get tunnel vision as you try to keep problem solving. By continuing to spin your wheels, you end up behind schedule before you know it.
You can also apply this to relationships. In the beginning, you can be building a relationship up with person X where both of you are very engaged. You continue to keep in touch and provide value. You’re seeing signs of rapport and trust. Then one day you discover an opportunity and you want X to help. Against all rationale, X rejects your proposal and leaves you confused.
Understandably these aren’t the most pleasant scenarios to be in. You thought you had what was needed to handle a situation. Then you start doubting yourself for not being able to figure things out yourself.
What could really be happening here?
Nonsense is Opportunity
If something doesn’t make sense to you, what does that really mean?
In the financial world, this is most commonly seen when experts make a prediction and they end up being dead wrong. That happens all the time but how do we account for all the experience and telltale signs experts use to make their predictions?
When their predictions fall short, they end up thinking that this doesn’t make sense. But here’s the thing: the market did what it did for a reason. You just didn’t understand it.
The amazing thing is that if even experts weren’t able to make sense of something, that means the opposite is true. Adam Robinson, co-founder of the Princeton Review and now an advisor to global hedge funds, uses this principle as one of his investment strategies. All the signs say this commodity should be bullish but it keeps falling? Short it!
Trump’s election as President of the United States is another example of this. When he first stated that he wanted to build a wall on the Mexican border, what was a common reaction? That he was speaking nonsense and would never win the election. When Robinson saw that, he already knew that Trump would succeed.
Nonsense is only nonsense because you don’t know you’re missing a piece of the puzzle.
Taking Advantage of the Nonsensical
In your work bottlenecks or networking difficulties, something that looks irrational means your assumptions were wrong. This is an obvious statement but when you’re in the moment, you get stuck in a downward spiral of doggedly trying to problem solve without questioning any assumptions or thinking of the bigger picture.
But you can’t solve a problem that you don’t fully understand. At this point, asking the right questions is more important than finding the answer.
In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink talks about a study where two groups of artists were faced with a still life assignment. One group took the time to study their subject matter, probing and asking questions. Another group went straight to painting.
The researchers then followed these two groups of artists over the years. Guess which one was more successful?
The attitude of finding the right question goes a long way. When you ask the right question, you distill the essence of what is missing. But this is not easy.
Realizing something is missing is counter intuitive. Sherlock Holmes had a moment when he asked Watson what was missing in a crime scene. No one else realized this but Holmes did. It was the fact that the dog wasn’t barking. You know this is fictional because human bias doesn’t work that way.
To do this, you have to keep asking yourself what the problem truly is. In a task, you do that by studying the problem, piece by detailed piece, and keeping your thoughts organized as you drill down to the root of it.
Then you create a concise question where if someone could give you a simple answer, you would get past your bottleneck. If you can’t explain your dilemma through a concise question, then you probably don’t understand all the aspects of your problem. But even that is a discovery because you realize this is something you should ask for help on. Ambiguity should be called out.
With people, this becomes a whole different ball game. You will need curiosity, nonjudgment and empathy. If someone acts in an illogical manner to you, that just means they don’t make sense in your head. In their head, their actions make perfect sense.
If you’re trying to win them over, eliminate the thought that they’re the problem. To get another person to resonate with you, they have to feel that you understand them. Put aside your ego and figure out that disconnect.
Isn’t it interesting how we automatically assume the world doesn’t make sense when it’s just our perspective? The world operates in a perfectly logical system. Moreover, it doesn’t care about what we think makes sense or not.
If you can get past your limiting beliefs, then you open up more possibilities in any endeavor you undertake. Thinking outside the box won’t just be a cliche you only hear and don’t know how to apply.