Sherlock Holmes claimed he saw no more than anyone else. He just knew what he saw. It wasn't the fruit of intuition. it was the result of training his brain to see more than the superficial.
The skill of seeing deeper — and understanding what you are see — is essential to effective public affairs work. Here are some tips to sharpen your wits:
Soak Up Information
In the rush to get a project approved or an idea planted, we are eager to tell our story. We should be just as eager to find out as many facts as possible before we launch our project or give root to our idea.
Holmes appeared like a walking encyclopedia of seemingly random facts. But in reality his mind was conditioned to absorb what he observed — or smelled or touched. He widened his range of experience by deepening his grasp of the obvious.
Being a fact magnet is a great trait when trying to piece together the mystery of why your project or idea has opponents and what it will take to abate their opposition.
Look for Connections
The deductive powers exhibited by Holmes are legendary. Some oddly attribute his deductive skill as intuition. It was anything but. His powers of deduction relied on connecting the dots.
What may have been invisible to most people was in plain sight of the deep-looking detective. He connected those dots that others couldn't see by looking for coincidences, contrasts or inconsistencies.
On a fictional camping trip, Holmes and Dr. Watson stared up at the sky. Holmes asked Watson what he saw, who replied, "Thousands of stars." When Holmes asked Watson what that meant, Watson gave a windy response. "To me," Holmes said, "it means someone has stolen our tent."
Quirky TV detective Monk, played expertly by Tony Shalhoub, is a perfect modern-day disciple of deductive reasoning. In each episode, Monk is called to a crime scene to see what others missed and, more important, to make the jagged pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit. He unmasks the real killers by seeing through their diversions and dissembling. He discovers the overlooked inconsistency that reveals the lies shrouding a killer.
The public affairs professional needs the same Monkish obsession to unlock the mysteries others cannot solve.
Analyze Your Observations
To see the bigger picture requires combining smaller pictures into an whole. As Holmes himself said, "Each fact is suggestive in itself. Together they have a cumulative force."
Analysis is more than creating a laundry list of "issues" or "concerns." It involves lifting up the rock to see the moss and worms underneath or learning why the rock is decomposing and polluting a nearby stream. Some call this getting to the nitty-gritty.
Public affairs professionals add value by finding out "what it all means." With the larger truth uncovered, you have a chance to address the real cause of your consternation.
Mixing Imagination with Facts
Some people mix up imagination and facts, unintentionally or on purpose. A better approach is to employ imagination in solving a problem posed by facts.
Holmes famously played his violin to stimulate his imagination. Whether you play an instrument well or badly, find your device that enables you to get beyond linear thinking to explore out-of-the-box problem-solving.
Don't forget Holmes had Watson to bounce ideas off of from time to time. You shouldn't hesitate to convene a group brainstorm to fish for a fresh idea.