Troubleshooting Rule #5: What don't you know?

My fifth troubleshooting rule is: What don’t you know?

This is shorthand for a process, or an internal conversation, that goes like this:

  1. “Dang it, I can’t solve this problem, because I lack X piece of information.”
  2. “Therefore, I could maybe solve this problem if I could only know X.”
  3. “Wait - maybe I can know X?”

In other words, when you find yourself getting frustrated because you don’t have enough information, identify some piece of information that seems worth knowing—maybe because it would close off a branch of the tree of possible causes, or maybe just because you’re confused about it—and then work on finding a way to get that piece of information.

It’s often helpful to reduce the scope of your search to just finding a way to know that one X.

Pro tip: Write down a description of the piece of information you’re looking for; this can make it easier to focus just on that, and not be distracted by the whole problem. Then, once you get that information, you can generalize out again.

In interpersonal contexts, maybe what you don’t know is someone’s motivation, or their emotions surrounding an issue, or maybe their misconceptions (or yours).

What could you know?

Next rule: Who haven’t you talked to?