How to best work your way into a new topic - Part 2

How to best work your way into a new topic - Part 2

Innovation Method
Published On:
May 22, 2023

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists,” noted the American moral and social philosopher. Eric Hoffer. As myriad new technologies and concepts make their entry into the world of business, we all need to become learners again to keep up with the pace and scope of changes as the Sixth Wave of technology innovation unfolds. In part 1 of this two-article episode, I proposed the five steps of working your way into a new knowledge area: Clarifying objectives and motivations upfront. Listing your knowledge. Browsing widely. Creating a glossary. And listing your un-knowledge.

In today’s second and final part, I will propose six additional steps to make your knowledge acquisition journey more effective and enjoyable (and elucidate the steps with the same case already introduced two weeks ago — an innovation project of a regional brand agency where I guide two teams first to learn more about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and then develop ideas on how brands can grow their business using NFTs).

7. Look for disconfirmatory information.

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

— Epictetus

When looking for information related to a topic, beware of a common cognitive trap: The Confirmation Bias describes the innate human tendency to favor confirmatory evidence that supports our beliefs of what we think is true. We often neglect the search for disconfirmatory evidence and dismiss evidence that might undermine our preferred views.

To counter this common bias, make an effort to find disconfirming evidence related to the topic you’re investigating.

For example, while researching the NFT topic, I asked the two teams to make an effort to look up information that discusses critical aspects of NFTs (and counter the hype related to many other sources on the topic).

Some of the critic points on NFTs include: They contribute to carbon emissions (as they use blockchain technology, which is notoriously energy-intensive). NFTs are risky as they can be hacked, stolen, and even disappear (if the host or server the NFT is on goes bust). Apparently, the brave new world of NFTs also attracts fraudsters and scammers preying on naive novices entering the space. Finally, NFTs might potentially form a bubble market, as most users buy an NFT based on speculation of an increase in value and not on its actual value or their liking.

8. Qualify your knowledge.

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little; it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so,” noted the US novelist Mark Twain. At some point in time, go through your knowledge list and check on the quality of information listed to distinguish fact from fiction. Ask: What listed knowledge point…

  • … can you treat as a hard fact?
  • In that case, you have high confidence that the information is true (“I am 100% sure” or “I’m very sure”), and you’re able to produce solid evidence to support your confidence.
  • For example, a hard fact that various sources confirm is that the total sales volume of NFTs exploded from just $94.9 million in 2020 to $24.9 billion in 2021 (whereby 85% of the growth happened in the second half of the year).
  • … is more of a dangerous half-truth?
  • Here, you’re “quite sure” about a purported “fact” or might think that something is true. In any case, you’ve more problems to put forth hard evidence, and the knowledge point might have more the character of an opinion or expressed belief (by someone with or without a stake in the matter).
  • E.g., in the NFT world, many NFT buyers eager to discover an NFT (project) that promises a rapid rise in value listen to the advice and picks of NFT guru Gary Vaynerchuk, not realizing that this is more of the informed opinion of an experienced NFT investor that can lead to possible quick success — and perhaps equally well to disappointment.
  • … rather classifies as total nonsense.
  • When someone makes a point by stating, “They say that” or “everyone knows that,” or by expressing that something “might be true,” you’re probably dealing with a statement that is total nonsense. Here, a famous line in Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds comes to my mind when Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) says: “Long story short, we hear a story too good to be true, it ain’t.”
  • Like other “get rich quick”-schemes, the “Wild, Wild West” of the new NFT world is full of common scams preying on naive novices in the field (some of the more common are outlined in this article by Norton, the digital security company. So, if someone offers you an NFT in a popular project at a surprisingly low price, beware: It’s probably a counterfeit or plagiarized NFT scam (similar to buying a fake Rolex).  

9. Deepen your knowledge about your topic with Xploration tools.

In a full-fledged innovation project, we ask innovation teams to invest a lot of time upfront in the Xploration-stage of X-IDEA, particularly in the second step. Here, the teams CALM-ly Xplore their case and topic by:

  • CHECKing things,
  • ASKing and answering great questions,
  • LOOKing at the project from various viewpoints, and
  • MAPping out and visualizing content related to their project case.

While traveling down these four Xploration paths, the teams will work on many X Tools, such as Assumption Check, Walk A Mile, Empathetic Point of View, X Questions, Pareto Questions, Challenge Sketch, and Knowledge Map, among others.

10. Map out your knowledge.

Knowledge is easy to gain; wisdom much less so. Move from knowledge to understanding by identifying which information is essential and then mapping the hierarchy among and connections between different knowledge areas in a Knowledge Map.

When creating a Knowledge Map, start in the center of a plain sheet of paper (in landscape mode) with a central image representing your project topic. Then, settle on your main knowledge categories (e.g., you could use the questions What, Why, Who, Where, When, How, How much/many as categories to structure the contents for most Knowledge Maps). Next, detail out each category by adding more subordinated branches. Finally, step back and look for connections between different topics that you can visualize using dotted lines and arrows.

Check out the first draft of my (still expanding) Knowledge Map on NFTs below for an example of a Knowledge Map.

11. Harness your insights.

When the time is up that you reserved to learn about a new project or topic related to a project you’re working on, pause and ask: So what? What important new things have we learned? And what does it mean for us and our project? In other words, make sense of what you learned by capturing all novel insights that you gained related to the topic.

For example, one insight I got while exploring NFTs in the brand agency project is that, in essence, NFTs are smart contracts that digitally document ownership of assets that can be digital, physical, and intellectual/intangible). Another insight relates to the Gartner Hype Cycle, where NFTs have just reached the peak of inflated expectations. This means they are bound to soon fall into the trough of disillusionment before slowly moving up the slope of enlightenment towards the plateau of productivity (within the next 2-5 years). Together, these two insights led to the third one: The most meaningful applications of NFTs in the future have yet to emerge, are likely to go beyond purely digital artifacts, and might also help to securely document ownership of physical and hybrid assets.  

12. Apply your knowledge.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do,” noted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The best way to learn is to apply your newly gained knowledge to an actual project. Such real-world application transfers the acquired knowledge and skills from theory into practice and allows you to gain first-hand experience on how this works out for real. It’s the way to build up actual know-how, in line with the Zen saying: “To know and not to do is not yet to know.”

For example, to apply newly gained knowledge on NFTs, you can buy your first NFT on trustworthy marketplaces such as Opensea or Rarible. And of course, to pay for this purchase, you first need to get yourself a digital wallet to store your digital currency of choice and then buy the required cryptocurrency (typically Ethereum (ETH)). (And admittedly, it’s something I yet have to do myself in the coming months to really know).

Conclusion: Gear up your knowledge acquisition approach to keep up with new tech

As the Six Wave of disruptive innovation will unfold in this decade and the next, we need to be open to learning about many emerging new concepts and technologies early on to ride the Wave successfully. So, devise your knowledge acquisition strategy to effectively work your way into a new topic — or feel free to adopt or adapt our systematic Thinkergy approach that I shared with you in these two articles. As the American singer and songwriter B. B. King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

  • The approach that I introduced to you is based on the methodological approach of how we work in the initial Xploration stage of our systematic creative process method X-IDEA.
  • Would you like to learn more about how to do Xploration (and use the related tools) in an experiential X-IDEA training workshop (which we offer both online and, preferably, face-to-face)? Or instead, directly apply your learnings and produce immediate innovation results in one of our dynamic X-IDEA projects?

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is going to be co-published in a shortened version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.

Credits: Title photo by Dylan Calluy on Unsplash. Phone of NFT apps by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash.