What is a problem? In short, it is an issue which our logic cannot deal with. In a natural way, we tend to approach each question with methodical and logical way. We try to find the solution using all our experience, knowledge and logical associations. Since – as one of the laws of Murphy says – logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence – eventually we fail, and that is what we call a problem. What then? Still we try to use our logic but this time we reach out for broader resources of our knowledge and experience – both conscious and unconscious. Finally our subconsciousness comes with the aid, prompting the solution, which we experience as an aha moment. So it seems that we can make a use of something that we don’t know. How is it?
We all know what we know. We have learnt it, experienced it, put our interest and attention to it, finally we have mastered it. Thus we also know what we don’t know – generally everything which is out of our erudition, experience, interests, practice and everyday routines. This is our conscious competence and incompetence – as described in Maslow’s learning model. And this is our comfort zone. The area where we love to stay and act in; skilfully and successfully. We can immediately assess our strengths and week points, solve issues ourselves or turn to experts (for their conscious competence).
What is out of this zone? The source of many surprises – sphere of unconscious knowledge i.e. what we don’t know that we know. There are all the things that we do instinctively, to which we have an access, although they function out of our control. We can find here also once acquired and then forgotten skills and knowledge.
Finally – easy to guess, but hard to imagine – an area of unconscious incompetence. How come we don’t know what we don’t know? There are few reasons. If we assume something is out of our knowledge (e.g. ‘I am not an architect’), we cannot imagine how many things we don’t know in this field (planning, designing, constructing, trends, styles, technology and anything linked to architecture). Furthermore, there is a psychological mechanism – illusion of explanatory depth – which keeps our incompetence out of awareness. Briefly, we tend to overestimate our understanding of things or phenomena. I bet you had a chance to realise it during exams in school or being confronted with endless sequence of inquisitive questions from children, who are just enjoying this way their “blissful ignorance”. Yes, we all have started as childish unaware ignorants and thanks to that we could absorb like a sponge everything which came across our conscious and subconscious mind.
According to Maslow’s learning model we start from the unconscious incompetence stage, to move towards conscious competence by learning, practicing and gaining mastery. We start ignorant like a child, to become finally an expert. In creative thinking it works differently. It is just a matter of leap between these extreme two stages. For creative mind the border between genius and childlike ignorance is very thin. No wonder. According to another Murphy’s law, an expert is a one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing, while child knows absolutely nothing about everything. Not far away from each other. Taking it very simple, we should think of the problem like an expert but try to solve it like a child, using our greatest tool – imagination.