Saturday, September 19, 2020

Off the Shelf: Non Obvious Megatrends


Perhaps a book designed to help business leaders capitalize on emerging trends might not be exactly the prescription for genealogists stymied in the search through history's pile of papers for that missing third great-grandmother's maiden name. But stay with me here. I've spent a lifetime learning to think differently, and while it often branded me as weird or offbeat, it does inform a researcher who is otherwise muddling through unanswerable questions. I've finally found a different drummer who put that beat I've been marching to into words: Rohit Bhargava's Non Obvious Megatrends.

Face it: when we think exactly like the next guy, we come up with answers exactly like the conclusions that didn't work for everyone else. What's needed is some guidance on honing our question-asking abilities. Even though this book answers questions for people in vastly remote fields from genealogy, we may be able to cross-apply the author's suggestions to problem solving in family history brick walls.

It may all come down to the types of questions we try to ask when we are stumped with an ancestor's identity. Yes, there are set details genealogists seek to unearth—but when those documents are missing, then what?

In the business world, author Rohit Bhargava starts out with the concept of "mindset"—but he doesn't stop there. He observes, "some people are able to see what others miss while others remain stuck doing things the way they always have."

Pretty rudimentary, admittedly. But after a decade of studying the thought processes of business leaders and creatives worldwide, he came up with five skills the best and brightest seem to hold in common. From that, his advice:

  • Be observant: see what others miss
  • Be curious: always ask why
  • Be thoughtful: take time to think
  • Be elegant: craft beautiful ideas
  • Be fickle: learn to move on

To start with, Bhargava recommends that you train yourself:

to pay attention to the little things. What do you see about a situation that other people are missing?

Isn't that what we need to do when the usual genealogical resources elude us? How many times do we need to think outside the box in order to infer the genealogical answers that aren't conveniently handed to us in a digitized, searchable website collection?

While the bulk of the book does focus on what it promised to deliver—Bhargava's techniques for discerning upcoming megatrends—there are several concepts embedded within the pages of this book to inspire new approaches to solving research problems, even in genealogy.

The author brings up the idea of the "Curse of Knowledge." A term first coined by economists in 1989, the concept describes the difficulty sometimes experienced by subject experts when explaining a complex concept to novices. If we find we know a great deal about a particular subject, that fact itself may hold us back by keeping us from thinking outside the box of our own expertise. Bhargava's remedy? Learn to see the world through others' unfamiliar eyes, learn to "ask questions constantly," and "consume content and experiences that fuel your curiosity and make you think."

While the concept behind this advice is the author's observation that "the unfamiliar opens our mind and helps us become more innovative," his method—read magazines you wouldn't normally read—can be easily adapted to our genea-blogging universe. Stuck on an Irish research problem? Why not read a blog post by an Irish genealogist on how she handles research in her own country? It certainly has, for instance, opened my eyes to more possible approaches to my usual brick wall dilemmas, and has taught me to think outside my American research box.

The author had me with his observation on what he calls "wandering." He is a proponent of meandering through the unfamiliar and then cross-applying it to our own situation. Though I can't blame him for my penchant for disappearing down research rabbit holes, how wonderful it feels to have a thinker like this validate my own experience:

The unfamiliar opens our mind and helps us become more innovative. Wandering helps us approach those experiences without a rigid agenda.

Anything to help unhinge those stuck research techniques when they don't produce the answers we seek. Yes, adhere to the proper directives for sourcing and citing our material, but when we can't find the answer writ bright in black and white, we need to have the courage to explore other resources innovatively, and then construct our reasonable proof argument. This book provides the advice to develop that thinking mindset.


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