How do you investigate a brand new topic? Here’s a blueprint:
Start by finding the key issues and then plotting the extremes. For example, in internet marketing, a key issue is intimacy. The opposites would be an autoresponder, and a personal, unique message. Another issue is permission. The two opposites would be spam and permission marketing. Personal, relevant and timely updates that the recipient has agreed to receive.
After you plot the extremes, the next step is to find the ideal. You try to figure out what is considered best practice. Typically, you do this by seeing what the upper echelons in a craft are doing. You read the book and find the ideas that form the foundation that everyone else builds upon.
Then, once you have the extremes and know what best practice looks like, you find the worst. What the mediocre do and what the weakest parts are. Usually, this will be opposite to what you’ve defined as best practice. If it’s not, then there may be an opportunity hiding in plain sight…
Now, you move the sliders. Imagine you’ve plotted the extremes, the best practice and the worst practice on a chart. It will look something like this crude drawing, where A, B, X and Y are the extremes you’ve found.
Perhaps you slide the best practice towards Y. What happens then? Or slide the worst practice all the way up to A. What does that look like?
The aim here isn’t so much about plausible positions or strategies. It’s about the exploration of possibilities. Exploring the full expanse of the terrain is the only way to discover if what everyone else has agreed is best and worst practice, is actually correct.
Another way to sense opportunity and wrongness within a field or discipline? Focus on the areas of high consensus and strong disagreement.
Sometimes, when everyone agrees on something, it’s because people have decided that that’s the best way. But sometimes, everyone agrees only because they haven’t bothered to challenge the position. They’ve accepted assumptions whose foundation they haven’t examined. And if no one’s examining them, there’s an opportunity for disruption.
At the other end of the scale, some issues present you with vehement disagreement. Everyone is out of alignment and can’t find common ground. That too is an opportunity, but of a different kind. Here, you have a chance to build a bridge across the chasm. To connect two previously hostile entities.
To summarise. Here’s how to investigate a new topic or field and generate insight:
1) Identify the key issues and their extremes.
2) Search out what is agreed as best practice.
3) Determine what is considered to be worst practice.
4) Move the sliders.
Or, alternatively you can focus on:
A) Areas of mass consensus and challenge the assumptions it rests upon.
B) Areas of strong disagreement and try to discover a bridge between them.