One of the challenges when gathering information from customers - a process that is called Discovery in the literature - is to move away from obvious subjects and encourage the emergence of unexpected (and often very valuable) data.

I need some kind of tool to help with this, else I will tend to stay in my comfort zone, letting the discussion revolve around familiar subjects.

The Discover-Y tool is a “Y” on its side. I am at the left-hand end of the Y, and my customer is (of course) at the centre. Above and to the right of my customer are the people and organisations that he or she is linked to (the “who” of the situation). Below and to the right of my customer are his or her problems, projects, ideas and fantasies (the “what”). That makes 4 nodes, and the lines joining them represent the relationships between the customer and the other nodes. Of course, since this is a mind map, we are free to draw other inter-nodal relationships, and to add nodes, but the basic Y is already incredibly useful, and it is simple.

The Discover-Y tool is a bit like a tennis racket. Anyone can quickly understand how to use a racket to hit a ball, and the basic rules of of tennis are not so hard either. However, to become a champion tennis player takes coaching, practice and time! For Discover-Y, you have probably already understood the basic idea (how to hit the ball), and I will now explain the basic method for using the tool (the rules of the game). I ask you not to get frustrated if Discover-Y does not immediately transform your life with customers - becoming a champion will take a little time, practice and maybe some training or coaching.

Using the tool in “encounter preparation mode” is a little like visual brainstorming. I annotate my Discover-Y with things that I know and - most important - things that I need to find out, positioning them next to the corresponding nodes and lines on the diagram.

It is important to remember the relationship lines. For example, “what does the customer expect from me/my organisation?”, can annotate the line joining me with my customer. Don’t forget to include questions about your competition on the “who” node, top-right. Also, build yourself a picture that is likely to take your questioning in the right direction. Although it is important to find out about the customer’s history and problems, your ultimate aim is to lead him to solutions. Including questions about his project and ideas will favor this trajectory.

In brief, Discover-Y, simple as it may be, quickly gets me asking good, constructive questions, uncovering surprising information and guiding my customer in a positive direction. It is simple enough to bring to mind during an encounter, if ever I find myself getting into a conversational rut. After a meeting, an update to the Discover-Y diagram helps me to remember what was said, and I can even use it as a visual aid to pass on what was learnt to others.

To discover why Discover-Y came into being, and if you are interested in other tools and methods for use in field encounters, please watch out for these “... in the Field” blogs. Discover-Y was inspired by the “8 intervention zones” coaching tool of Vincent Lenhardt.

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