Step back. Think for a minute. What the heck just happened?
When you can’t see the obvious, it isn’t because you aren’t smart. It’s because you are not sufficiently “dumb!”
Dumb doesn’t mean “not smart.” In this case it means that your smartness has blinded you to the obvious, that your wisdom, your experience, even your perspective have all combined to ensure that you can’t see, appreciate, or evaluate a different approach to solving a particular challenge.
Being dumb means consciously acknowledging that your lens, the framework through which you solve problems, is a construct of all of your experience. And if your experience has prepared you to solve a particular problem, well then, fantastic! You’ll probably solve it just fine, and you will project the confidence and satisfaction of someone who knows how to get things done.
But what happens when your experience, that lens that is your life, prepares you to look at a problem and desperately, with every increasing minute, attempt to shove the proverbial ten pounds of solution into a one pound basket. Well then, my friend, you have experienced the stupidity that is smartness. And more importantly, if you were listening carefully, you may have just learned an incredibly important lesson.
As lessons go, this one is very important. Whenever you slap yourself on the head, stop and ask yourself, “how did I miss that?” the answer is not that you weren’t smart enough; it was that you used your smarts in the wrong way. If you can’t solve the problem through your experience you can still solve it, you can still be the hero, but you have to very consciously and very deliberately look at the problem without the benefit of what you think it actually is. Your experience isn’t helping you, so you need to:
Stop. Yes, stop. No matter the urgency, stop and pull out a blank sheet of paper. Or if you feel compelled, sit down in front of your computer.
Start writing. What do you know about the problem? What are all the inputs? What are the outputs? What is real, what is imagined?
Now, and here comes the hard part…ask yourself, “why do I believe that my analysis is correct?” For every statement about the problem you have to very carefully ask yourself, and with the full knowledge that you may be wrong, “why do I think this assumption is true?” Do you know it as a fact, or do you simply believe it to be true? Is there an alternative explanation?
You may not be able to answer every question, but the simple exercise of becoming just a bit “dumber” will help you tremendously. We all become blinded by our lens and in turn, blinded by the obvious when it doesn’t fit our lens. We look past the obvious and invent convoluted explanations that explain how and why we came to a particular conclusion.
Remember, being dumb can be a very smart way of problem solving when your “smarts” aren’t enough. Be extra smart and step back, start from scratch, and look at a problem or challenge without your lens in place. You will be amazed at the power of this approach.
Now, being stupid? That’s an entirely different matter. For example…you think that the Cubs are going to win the World Series. Well, that would just be stupid!