An innovator can unveil the uncertainty and mysticism surrounding an idea if the facts, assumptions, perceptions and opinions are properly evaluated.
THE SOLE aim of the innovator is to generate profit from a novel or creative idea. To do this, he first examines and studies the landscape that he is in.
He examines his surroundings, in the context of his own strengths and weaknesses. He questions everything he observes and does not take anything for granted. He evaluates every assumption and ascertains the credibility and reliability of claims and evidence before him. This is the basis of critical thinking.
An innovator is a critical thinker when he has learnt the art of separating facts from opinions. He examines the basis of assumptions and delves into perceptions that surround the proposition. Collectively, opinions, assumptions and perceptions are regarded as “noise” and are usually discarded by men of science. The innovator however, extends the boundaries of traditional critical thinking and extracts underlying messages from the noise.
In the last five articles, we explored all these concepts of critical thinking, with the aim of bringing the innovator closer to the heart of the truth.
The next task in critical thinking is to put all the pieces together so that the complete picture reveals an opportunity that is not obvious to the masses.
Unfortunately, this is the most difficult part. In isolation, each individual piece tells a certain story. When assembled however, the combined parts of the jigsaw puzzle may reveal an entirely different representation. To make matters even more difficult, the final picture may be like a hologram — showing different images to different people, depending on their points of view.
Which one is the true portrait of the opportunity and which one is the illusion? The ability to distinguish one from the other is what differentiates an entrepreneur from an innovator. An ordinary entrepreneur sees a business opportunity whereas an innovator charts the journey to a profitable destination.
We must understand that not everything is visible to the naked human eye. Sometimes we need tools to make invisible things become visible. Just like a micro-biologist relies on a microscope to bring minute organisms into full view under the lens and a banker uses an ultra-violet light lamp to view the watermarks of currency notes, the innovator needs a tool that brings invisible messages from facts, opinions, assumptions and perceptions into his viewfinder.
A simple tool that makes the task easier is the “FAPO (Facts, Assumptions, Perceptions Opinions) Matrix” See Table. The matrix, shown in the table, shows the complete picture of the situation being evaluated.
The power of this deceptively simple tool lies in the fact that, when all aspects of the situation are shown on one sheet of paper, the relationships between the different parts become visible. Somehow, the human brain finds it easier to make sense out of complex data when all of it is presented on one page.
The “FAPO Matrix” functions as the “third eye” and allows the innovator to “see” what others miss out – the richness provided by the intersections of the four components.
Fill up the matrix by listing key facts as bullet points in the first quadrant. You should not have more than five or six points. Do the same with the other quadrants – list down five or six assumptions, perceptions and opinions. You need to ensure that the validity of the claims has been established and that the sources are reliable. This is not always possible, so include uncertainties in the assumptions quadrant.
Work with the FAPO Matrix in a group consisting of friends from varied backgrounds – those who like the arts, sciences, mathematics. sports and others. Pit the facts against the opinions and see how quickly biases show up. Compare the facts against the assumptions and you can swiftly determine the reliability and credibility of the assumptions.
For some off-the-wall insights, contrast the assumptions against the perceptions and you may find links that were elusive to you all along.
Evaluate the opinions together with the perceptions and you may discover hidden intelligence about the target market.
The multiple possible combinations provide a fertile ground that can be analysed to provide lush information. The output from the FAPO Matrix is a clear and unambiguous understanding of the state of affairs, which opens up the mind to opportunities that should have been obvious but were buried under the noise.
The innovator is not a philosopher – his purpose for critical thinking is to correctly identify an opportunity or to solve a problem. If done in a structured manner, the skill can be learnt by just about anyone and the uncertainty and mysticism surrounding innovation can be eliminated.
Since critical thinking is the first step, it has to be both accurate and precise. A by-product of critical thinking is the identification of various problems, weak links and potential pitfalls that are causing the opportunity to remain untapped. These issues become the input to the next stage – Constructive Thinking. The objective of Constructive Thinking is to address and overcome these concerns and propose workable solutions.
We have reached the end of Part Two of this series on critical thinking. Part Three will deliberate on Constructive Thinking and the tools, techniques and methodologies that the innovator can use to sharpen his mind.
THINKING TOOLS By Dr KAMAL JIT SINGH
■ Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh is the CEO of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM). It is the vanguard for innovation in Malaysia. Established by the Government through an Act of Parliament, AIM will be the driving force behind Malaysia’s push towards establishing an innovation economy.