Never be misunderstood again – The Art of Guided Discovery

Do you often feel misunderstood as a manager? Or are you a trainer or coach struggling with getting a reasonable level of retention and application of what you teach people? Although this is a very commonly experienced problem, the truth is that you can overcome this.

Building Common Sense – And thinking everyone else has the same common sense as us

One of the biggest challenges of life is this:

1.       To overcome problems, we learn.

2.       The moment we know something, we forget what it was like to not have known it, and it becomes for us common knowledge. We sub-consciously assume everyone knows it.

3.       We then apply this knowledge, and if it works, i.e. if the problem is overcome, we know how to do it.

4.       The moment weve applied something once and seen it work, it becomes for us common sense. It now feels to us as if everyone around us should know this.

5.       We do this constantly, without realizing it. So, over a period of a few years, or half a career, we develop a massive amount of this common sense which we sub-consciously assume everyone around us also possess.

6.       The more knowledge we possess in a certain domain, the easier it becomes to assimilate and apply new knowledge in that domain, because the existing knowledge become like hooks on which to hang our new knowledge. We also assume this is equally easy for anyone we share knowledge with.

The wrong assumptions that come from this

This has several consequences, some of which are:

1.       When someone doesnt do something as well as we would have, we assume that they know how to (because its common sense) and their failure therefore seems to us to be through lack of trying, or lack of caring or some other fundamental character flaw rather than through lack of knowing how.

2.       When we do remind ourselves that they probably just dont know how, we end up making a massive amount of assumptions about what they do know and what they dont know. We use this to guide us to begin to transfer bits and pieces of knowledge, without really having a clear picture of what the other person knows, or doesnt know. Consequently, they often miss critical elements needed to transfer the knowledge to practice, and lose a massive amount of knowledge for which they just didnt have prior hooks to connect it to.

3.       We also tend to believe that everyone else has the same assumptions as what we have. Consequently, we are easily misunderstood, or not understood at all, and then we are frustrated when the knowledge is not correctly applied.

The Socratic Method – A way to navigate the divide

The way to overcome this is through making every effort to coach, consult, and transfer knowledge as far as possible through questioning, rather than through telling. This is another one of the reasons why Theory of Constraints tends to be more effective than many alternative interventions. Although the Theory of Constraints does not claim to have a monopoly on the Socratic method of teaching, it does consider the Socratic method of teaching to be fundamental to its body of knowledge, and it is therefore one of the key skills that any good TOC practitioner should have in his toolbox.

Reality Trees as a tool to build a Socratic dialogue

TOC provides a set of Thinking Processes, and within these, specifically something called Reality Trees, which helps us to prepare for a Socratic dialogue. Reality Trees are logical maps that help us visualize cause and effect relationships in a given situation. They force us to verbalise our beliefs and assumptions about how the world works; and to arrange these in logical order.

Once you have such a map of the knowledge and understanding, it becomes possible to deconstruct the map into a series of open-ended questions that would help someone else construct a similar map, even if it is just a cognitive map they construct mentally.

This approach has several benefits.

1.       Because people are answering questions, its immediately clear when you have made a jump based on prior knowledge, which they dont possess. So you greatly reduce the problem of them having invisible gaps of critical information in their understanding.

2.       Because people are figuring out the answers for themselves, and because it comes to them in such an obviously logical sequence, they tend to remember it much better in fact, the moment they give the answer, it becomes common knowledge to them.

3.       People cannot help but to answer it from their own position in their own situation, which means that they also cannot help but to start grappling with how they will implement it the first step to moving from common knowledge to common sense.

4.       Most importantly, when they come up with answers that are significantly different from what we expect, we immediately know weve made assumptions about their world that may be inaccurate.

Clarify the logic, convert to questions – and see your impact increase

If you coach, teach, or consult, or even just feel that you are often misunderstood in your management role, and you often struggle with retention and application of knowledge in your audience or subordinates, this will really help you.

Where to find out more:

You can read about this in Eli Goldratts book The Goal, and most books on the Theory of Constraints, or you can do some reading about it here:

Alternatively, if you want some hands-on practice, at 5-2-50 we do a half-day workshop called The Art of Guided Discovery where we use this very method to show you how to use it yourself. Email me at, if you would like to know more.

To your success!


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