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Project Stuck? Try Using A “Black Box.”

Sand for Your Inbox
July 2010

When a scientist or engineer designs a new process, they run into many unknowns. That’s expected when creating something from scratch. However, they could have so many unknowns, if they tried to solve each as they happened, they’d get mired in minutia and never finish the project.

To deal with these sticky spots, they put each unknown into a “black box.” This serves as a placeholder for what they’re missing. They assume what comes out of the black box is what they need to continue the path in the process. This allows them to progress without getting distracted.

They will come back to their black boxes later and figure them out, or find someone who can.

The black box technique can come in handy when us non-scientists get stuck on something.

For example, when working on your marketing plan, you know you should include a social media strategy. But, you don’t know much about social media or the right tactics.

Your lack of knowledge may cause you to:

  • (a) omit this as a strategy, or
  • (b) head off to immediately become a social media expert.

If (a): You may miss a potentially critical strategy.
If (b): You’ve lost focus and spun off into a tangent.

Either way your plan may suffer.

So instead, insert a black box representing your social media strategy. Continue with the rest of your plan and return later to add the missing details.

Next time you get stuck on an idea, try using black boxes. Don’t let a temporary lack of information hold you back.

Take care,

Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox
Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

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