Thoughts on Forging

Hi @rjs! I’ve been following your latest Twitter threads. Very interested in this pre-shape phase as I do a bit of it myself. As I am terrible at Twitter, my thoughts here:

My first went to fencing. I imagined myself putting up fence posts, trying to corral a wild stallion or bull. One post has no value, but it marks your start. Two posts just makes a line, also useless but now you have an initial sense of scale. Get to three, you finally have an outline. Triangulation is a term I saw in one Twitter response.

If your problem space is hilly vs. flat, you start to see the fence posts from different angles as you move around. It may change your view of the problem, and reveal some fence posts are in the wrong place, or uncover new areas of land obscured from view.

Each fence post is an insight from research. Put down enough fence posts, connect the dots, and eventually you get the silhouette/outline/boundaries/edges of the problem. Your shaped work will happen somewhere inside this fenced-in area.

My second thought was a microscope, focusing. When you first throw a slide under the microscope, it’s just a big blur. You start turning the knob and it stays fuzzy, then all of a sudden you start see forms emerge. But if you still don’t see anything, but you may have to move the slide around. Or change the power of your lens to get more detail.

If the slide content is thick (e.g. a thick problem vs. thin), you’ll be looking at different layers of the content, each with a slightly different view of the problem. With enough twiddling of the knob back and forth, you get to “see the problem” in focus. The stronger the magnification, the more you see.

I like the term forging, because the allusion to heat, energy and mental labor is appropriate for meaningful qualitative research. In the literal sense, though, I struggle with the analogy because the output of forging is often a finished, immutable tool like a sword, which feels more like a solution than a problem.

Thanks for setting up this forum. Never would’ve been able to squish this into 280 characters. =) Best of luck as you continue to think through this.

I tweeted this too, but fencing is close to what I was thinking about: “staking” or “stake-out” which is from land surveying.

After you’ve measured the shape of the land you go back out with your equipment and mark out important points with stakes. They could indicate the property boundary, or mark where (and how much) earth needs to be moved.

So if you think of your problem space as a little piece of land, you might have marked out the property limits (hard bounds). There also might be a swamp you’ve measured out (a hard problem but fixable, but definitely stay clear of getting stuck?). Or maybe it’s a nice pond (something users want but needs maintenance). You might mark out a slope that needs to be leveled, and in this case you know how long it will take to move the dirt.

You can be less literal and think of the problem space as a fitness surface. Hard things are high spots, and after surveying them you can decide whether to stake around them to indicate they’re out of the project. Or you can add the stakes that show how and where to move earth to get your solution. Maybe it’s too big to flatten out but you can fix the slopes.

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Something I just thought of is “Deep-Sea Exploring”

  • It’s about exploring & understanding the unknown
  • You only have a place/direction to start where you think something is there (customer pain point, random idea, data etc)
  • Takes a commitment of resources to do (people, time)
  • Is difficult, challenging work to do
  • Requires you to identify, learn about and understand things (investigate in the right places, ask the right questions etc)
  • Sometimes you find nothing
  • Sometimes you make important discoveries
  • The output is an article/journal that explains your discoveries (a well-defined problem). Those understandings can then be used by yourself or others later on

Hopefully it’s not disqualified for being more than a single word, but otherwise I think the metaphor works nicely for what @rjs is looking for.

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Forging reminds me of this diagram from the 1992 Bridgestone Bicycles catalog:

The final forged piece is not done yet, it still will need machining steps. Then when the machining is done and the part is functional, there are all the finishing steps to make it look nice.

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