Organize Information to Make Something Out of Nothing

I was recently asked by a colleague how I approach the development of new strategies or processes or products. Essentially, how do I start to create a something that isn’t an evolution of something that is, but that is new?

In business, this is a tricky one, because not only would I need to solve this for myself, I’d also need to know how to convince others of what I’ve come up with and recommend. Going from “what if…” to having an actual plan about that is not a simple play.

Research is obviously the first part. Who wants this? Why? What have others done elsewhere that’s maybe similar? Who can I talk to about about this? And so on. But I think we intuitively knew that already.

The complicated part is approaching what to do with the massive onslaught of information that research will provide. Finding information is going to be easy, but managing it into a proposal or an idea or a story? That’s complicated.

My favourite tool and approach here is to find a place for all the bits that will inevitably come in. This not only groups things for clarity later, but it also forces me to consider what a bit of information even is.

The categories I find helpful:

  • Facts: these are pieces of information that are true, verifiable, and replicable by others. This can also be a bucket of verifiable things that aren't true (i.e. it is a fact that x is false).
  • Assumptions: often masquerading as facts, these are findings that are thought to be true, or which represent information that will be used in the absence of other information.
  • Opinions: research means engaging others, and explicitly separating opinion from fact or assumption is valuable. Bonus marks: these give hints on how to sell you ideas later.
  • Ideas: like opinions, but less rooted in evaluations. These may also be my own, but are also good insights to my audience later.
  • Questions: this is a running log of open questions, and is typically added to as the other things sort (i.e. I this is a fact, and that is an assumption, then what is the other fact?)
  • Next Actions: coming out of all of the above, having actions is vital so that I know what I will do as more information comes together and is clarified to fill in the initial void.
Having a place for everything and helping everything find its place is a great way to manage information and ideas, and can really support going from no information to a lot of information to organized information. When information is organized, patterns can emerge, and I can really make sense of what all it is I'm working with.

How do you like to approach planning around new things? I’d love to hear about it!

HeyScottyJ @heyscottyj