So there it is, right in front of you. The thing has a vague shape, but you want more than a passing familiarity. How can you understand it better?

The thing I’m talking about an idea. (Or an action, which is an idea in motion.) For me, here are the first six things I do to understand a thing:

I begin by by approaching from the front, and looking at it dead on. Face to face and eye to eye. Examine it according to common sense and common experience. Looking at a thing plainly, and simply, is the first step because most of the time we don’t make the time to notice. To stop. To consider. Take the face value and discover what it equals in your own terms.

Next I’d hit it from the left and from the right. I’d compare it to things that are similar and contrast it with things that are different. Understanding always requires two things: confusion (some form of a question, this process assumes you are asking, WHAT IS THIS THING?) and context. Comparing and contrasting sets up your frames of reference. This is like completing a jig saw puzzle by beginning on the edges. Add to the thing, and subtract from the thing. Learn where it begins and where it ends, what it is and what it isn’t.

Dig deep and come up from the bottom. Examine what the thing is resting on. All things come from something else (well, nearly all things…) and rest upon assumptions and origins. This thing stands on another thing: is it stable, is it shaky? This thing is a consequence of what? A stream can rise no higher than it’s source. Divide the thing into it’s component causes and your understanding will increase.

Descend forcefully upon the top of the thing, and wonder what other things might rest upon this thing. Wonder insightfully about the possibility and opportunity that will be created by this thing. Complete consideration of the consequences isn’t possible, but we need to try. A tree is known by it’s fruits, multiply the things and see where it leads.

Finally, sneak up on the thing from behind and work hard to look into it’s blind spots. This difficult task attempts to uncover the variables not considered or overlooked by the thing.

What is it?
What is it like? What is it not like?
What does it assume to be true?
Where will it lead?
What is it missing?