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Your main objective during the Fact-Find stage is to collect information that will later be used for analysis and study to help you solve the problem you are facing. You must acquire as much knowledge about everything that is related to the problem, to your goal, and to the potential opportunities that you might be able to take advantage of.
Take a good hard look at the circumstances of your problem and ask the who, what, when and where questions. It’s actually paramount that you focus on who or what is involved in creating this problem. Don’t concern yourself with the how and why, instead just focus on the facts. Leave the how and why questions for the clarification sub-stage which is to follow.
It’s important to immerse yourself in the problem and get a 360 degree overview of it from all relevant angles and perspectives. Leave nothing to chance, and make sure you are thorough and diligent with your research. Finally, it’s important to note that you are searching for both Quantitative and Qualitative data. This data will be clarified at the next sub-stage.
Let’s now explore this sub-stage in a little more detail.
Identify the Circumstances
These are the circumstances that define the problem you are facing. You just need to identify these circumstances here, without going into too much detail. The details will be revealed once you begin clarifying everything at the next sub-stage.
Identifying the circumstances surrounding the problem requires that you consider seven key areas. These areas include:
First, identify the evidence that suggests that this is a problem, while also identifying any underlying issues that may exist. Ask yourself:
- What are the indications that this is a problem?
- Are there any underlying issues?
Secondly, you must take a look at where the problem came from, how it began and what factors contributed towards creating this problem (possible causes for the problem). Ask yourself:
- Where did this problem come from?
- When did this problem begin?
- What factors contributed to this problem?
Thirdly, your task is to identify anything or anyone that is directly or indirectly connected to this problem. Moreover, pinpoint how each of these people are involved in creating or maintaining this problem and the role or roles they play. Keep in mind that these players may also directly or indirection benefit from a solution to the problem.
Remember, that you are only looking for solid facts. If they are not solid and measurable facts, than you should be wary to take them under consideration. Getting laid astray at this early stage is very easy to do.
It might also be worthwhile creating a visual Avatar for the main players involved or affected by the problem. See the element gallery for more information.
Here are some questions that will help you work through this stage:
- Who has been affected by this problem?
- In what way have they been affected?
- Who are the players in the problem?
- What do each of these players do?
- What roles do they play?
- Who is to blame for the problem?
- Where does the responsibility lie?
- Who perpetuates the problem?
- Who could potentially benefit from a solution?
Fourthly, it’s critical that you look at the problem in a little more detail and identify how often it occurs, when it occurs, when it doesn’t occur, etc. These questions are important because they help you to identify consistencies, patterns and also inconsistencies that may be used to help you find a suitable solution as you continue to move along The Path.
Here are some questions that you might like to ask:
- How often does this problem occur?
- How long has this problem persisted?
- When does it happen?
- When does it not happen?
- Where does it happen?
- Where does it not happen?
It might be helpful to determine how much control you actually have over this problem. However, be very careful here, because your perceived level of control might be very different to your actual level of control. And in the end, the more control you have over the problem, the more likely you are to find an adequate solution that will help you solve your problem.
- Whose behavior do I control?
- What aspects of this problem can I control?
- What aspects of this problem can’t I control?
It’s always difficult to admit to the excuses that we tend to make about the problems we are confronted with. However, we must at the same time bear in mind that our excuses may actually reveal underlying beliefs that might not work for us, and that we might need to shed if we seek to solve this problem successfully. In such instances, it’s prudent to ask:
- What excuses do I tend to make about this problem?
Being open and honest here can work to your advantage.
It’s vital to take under consideration that there is often a positive-side to the dark-side. 🙂 Every problem has a silver-lining, and every problem might in fact benefit you in some way. In such instances it’s important to ask:
- What is happening that is good?
- What would I like to have continue?
Finally, there’s one more question that will help stimulate further questions that you may want to take under consideration. That questions is:
- What more do I need to know about this problem in order to solve it effectively?
Identify the Changes
There are certain patterns in terms of how things change that are as dependable as clockwork. You must take time now to identify how these changes are related to the problem you face and how these changes may in fact be creating or prolonging your problem.
Keep in mind that some changes are nothing more than temporary blips on the radar of time, and contain no reliable information about the future. However, there are other changes that are so substantial and reliable that they offer very clear glimpses into the future.
Here are three important questions you might like to ask yourself:
- What changes are evident here?
- What changes are influencing this problem?
- What do each of these changes tell me?
Changes can either be cyclic or linear. You must keep an eye out for both of these types of changes. Here is some more information about each one.
First, it’s important to keep an eye out for cyclic change and how it affects your problem.
The idea of cyclic change is that when something goes in one direction for an extended period of time, it will eventually swing back to its original point. It’s much like the cycle of the seasons that move through summer, autumn, winter and spring, or move through dry and wet periods or hot and cold periods.
Be forewarned that relying on cyclic change to predict the outcomes of your problems does have its dangers. In most cases it simply oversimplifies the process of change and its effects on the problems you face.
Keep in mind that things hardly ever return to their exact point of origin because the context often changes. People, places and processes simply do not remain the same. This also implies that what worked in the past will most likely not work today because the context is different. Also, the problems that existed in the past may not be the same today even though on the surface they appear to be similar.
Secondly, we also have linear change. This is change that progresses forward in one direction.
Taking into consideration how linear change is affecting your problem can help tremendously throughout the fact-finding sub-stage. Because linear change does not have a repeated pattern, it therefore creates entirely new circumstances and opportunities all the time.
Examples of linear change include the process of aging, the increase of information, inventions, patents, and globalization.
You must take the time to identify different types of linear changes and how they influence and affect the problem you are dealing with. Also, consider how they could potentially benefit or aggravate your problem in the future.
We will discuss these concepts in detail on the VTM blog.
Identify the Trends
Trends are key critical facts that show you how the future might unfold.
Trends will assist you to get a better understanding of the next steps you should take along your journey towards overcoming your problem. Likewise, they will help you to figure out the best opportunities you must look out for to help you overcome your problem.
When looking at trends, it’s important to take into consideration that there are two main types of trends known as hard and soft trends. Understanding the difference between these two types of trends will allow you to predict the future more accurately, and determine how certain trends may or may not be influencing the problems you face.
As you are undergoing your research and fact-finding mission, take a look at possible trends that could affect or influence the desired future you would like to create and ask yourself:
- What trends are evident here?
- What trends are influencing this problem?
- What do each of these trends tell me?
Let’s now take a look at hard and soft trends in a little more detail.
A soft trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible — fully predictable facts. It is something that might happen, and that has the potential to occur in the future. These trends are important to spot, because they point to where the opportunities lie. However, you must be very careful with soft trends. Just because they are based on factual, accurate numbers doesn’t mean that the trends will turn out to be accurate in the future.
Soft trends are often influenced by human behavior and choices. Therefore based on our current behavior and “choice criteria” we can predict what will happen in ten year time if we continue along the current path working through the problem. However, throughout these ten years there will be other factors that will influence and alter our behavior. Therefore, even though we can predict what will happen now, we don’t know how our behavior or choices might change over time. For this very reason this is why it’s called a soft trend.
Soft trends are things we can physically change if we decide to act on them. For this very reason soft trends provide opportunities for change if we are ready and able to spot them.
A hard trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events or objects. Hard trends will for instance tell you where technology is going and what capabilities we can expect in the future. These are solid facts that will happen, the question is how will you take advantage of them to help solve your problems?
The stock market is for instance both a hard and soft trend. The rise and fall of the stock market is a hard cyclic trend. We know that in the future it will rise and fall. In fact, we know that with certainty. However, what we don’t know is when the market will rise, how high it will rise, or when it will fall and how low it will fall before it turns again. Therefore the timing and the extent of the market’s behavior would be considered a soft trend because it is influenced by our choices and actions.
To give you another example, the acceleration of technology is a hard linear trend. This is measurable, tangible and fully predictable. However, who or what specific companies will introduce technological breakthroughs or take market-share in the future is a soft trend.
More information about soft and hard trends will be provided on the VTM blog.
There are two other trends that you might also like to take into consideration at this time in relation to your problem. They are counter-trends and extremes.
In science, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. What this means is that a strong trend often results in a counter-trend. For instance, science these days seems to be pulling people away from religion. However, at the same time as people are being pulled away they are searching for something to believe in, which has brought about the new-age spiritual movement. Therefore there is a counter-trend moving people towards spirituality.
The extremes is another trend. Many people like to play it safe and cluster around the middle of a trend. For instance, when it comes to fashion, most people are unlikely to be at the extremes of a fashion movement. Instead, they play it safe somewhere in the middle. However, there are plenty of opportunities that exist on the extremes if you are able to spot them.
How is all this relevant to my problem?
Understanding changes and trends is very important when it comes to solving your problem for a number of reasons:
- They help you to identify patterns that could be creating, causing or aggravating your problem.
- They provide you with insights as to how your problem might evolve over time.
- They highlight potential opportunities you may be able to take advantage of that could help you solve your problem
We will discuss how to apply these ideas to the process of visual thinking on the VTM blog.
How can I visualize this?
Integrated into this stage is a set of visual thinking techniques, strategies, tools and processes that you can utilize to help you visualize your thoughts on paper or in physical form. These techniques will be revealed and integrated into each stage along The Path over time.