In the past when I could not answer a question, I would see this as a problem to be solved. I would ask myself, “What is the answer?” I would assume that it had an answer, that I should know the answer, and that my job was to find the answer. It defined a hole in my knowledge, an emptiness, a null set, a stumbling block, a gap. The gap became my focus.
I’ve begun to think quite differently about gaps. First, they should not be the focus of my attention. The question should be the starting point for asking what other questions come from thinking about the first question? Do they give me insights into the gap? Do they call up ‘forgotten’ knowledge that needed a nudge to come forth to tell me I already had the answer to the original question? Or do the additional questions suggest still more questions? And where do they take me?
As I pondered this apparent conundrum I realized that I had viewed the gap from only one angle. It was as if I was looking at a painting that had a black splotch on it. I wanted to know what lay under that splotch. But a painting exists in a three dimensional world. I realized that the gap might rather be more like a tear in the canvas, a tear that invites me to look through the canvas to see what lies beyond.
Imagine the delight of opening the gap more to get a better view. Suddenly a universe of possibilities explodes into view. There is no longer a concern for the gap. There is the enchantment of all that is revealed as we look through the painting. Opening up the gap is like asking questions suggested by the original question and then more questions. Rather than focusing on the gap, the focus is on the questions and the resultant insights gained by asking more questions.
Children are wonderful at asking unexpected questions. Metaphor unlocks new understanding. Seeing an issue from a different place breaks through hidden assumptions. Sufficiently jogged, our brains love to present us with unexpected knowledge about the issue as it bubbles up. Just the new combination of words, the change in perspective, the metaphor – all can stimulate our brains to make new connections and present more information.
Imagine doing this with a team. Ask the question that appears to have no answer and require that each response be expressed only as another question. What sparks will fly? What new knowledge will stand up and be recognized?
Is there really ever a gap? Of course there is. The challenge is first to see the gap as being much larger than we thought (Consider that our ignorance is all the rests beyond the circle of our knowledge and is always bigger than we can imagine.) and, second, is to see gaps as invitations to explore forgotten treasures as well as new insights that come from a curious mind not satisfied with a single question. As always, the question is so much more important than the gap.
Photo by Marco Leo