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How can we actively discover better strategies?

How can you know that you are solving the right problem and it’s a problem worth solving?

For most of us, it’s par for the course to identify a problem and search for a solution. But how often do you implement a solution and then realise you haven’t solved the problem at all? Or you’ve come up with an improvement or idea that doesn’t really help? Or that the problem isn’t that important?

There are many reasons why this may happen, but one of the most common is that we often don’t look openly at the problem. Instead, we rush headfirst into an idea based on a narrow set of facts; or we see what we want to see rather than what is actually there. But if we don’t get the correct understanding, assessment or information about a problem, how can we arrive at the right solution?

To truly understand a situation takes effort – real insights don’t come automatically. You have to be active and determined to discover the realities beyond the obvious and be brave enough to challenge your assumptions and accept new or different viewpoints.

It is not a passive process but an active process stemming from action and commitment.

So what’s the answer?

The phenomenon of “inattentional blindness” has been discussed in innovation circles for quite some time. It refers to the failure to notice a visible but unexpected object. It happens because while you are distracted and looking one way, you don’t see something else that is perfectly obvious. We tend to see what we expect to see.

There are tips and tools to overcome this, for example, directed observation, checklists and campaigns to help you focus on one problem or challenge. When you concentrate and direct your mind, you can see things that would otherwise escape your notice. 

Seeing what others don’t see is the secret of great innovators and an innovation mindset.

But what about strategic planning and workplace improvement. How can you expand your lens, so you include more than the obvious or that which is front of mind? How can you discover the unknown unknowns – those things that you don’t know you don’t know?

“There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.”

You’ve probably heard about Active Listening, which helps you hear the intended meaning through focus, empathy and interaction.

At Hargraves, we espouse Active Looking, a team process to expand your scope and challenge what you observe and see through other people’s eyes to discover the real and underlying issues for your team or organisation.

When used in conjunction with Active Listening and Active Seeking, Active Looking delivers customer-focused, practical solutions that address real needs and deliver genuine impact. 

How to: Discover better strategies and solutions


What is the issue?

Active Listening

Who is it a problem for?
What have you heard from them?

Active Looking

What are the hidden issues?
What are others' perspectives on the issue?
What have you observed?

Active Seeking

How do others address this issue?
What does research tell us?


What is the right problem to be solved?

We call it the Active Discovery Process:

  • Define your problem or challenge correctly
  • Address the real needs of the customer
  • Find new and better solutions that work
Active Listening Active Looking Active Seeking
Elements Look and see Listen and hear Seek and connect
Why Understand people’s feelings and intentions, frustrations and desires Discover factors outside of the known or assumed Find insights and ideas from other contexts
How In-person, one to one and groups Within teams and externally With other organisations, research institutes, data
What • Interact with the speaker
• Acknowledge their meaning
• Respond positively
• Apply to your challenge
• Expand your lens and what you are looking for
• Challenge what you see
• Look through the eyes of others
• Interpret in relation to your challenge
• Frame good questions
• Ask for help from a range of people
• Absorb their information
• Connect to your challenge
Attributes Empathy
Potential outcomes Unstated customer needs Hidden issues and barriers Different and better solutions

Where do you start?

Ask, Don’t Tell

Take some time to bring out the best in others through better question skills.

Download the ‘Ask Don’t Tell’ Tool for questions and prompts to help you get started.

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