The truth of the matter is that the Examine and Understand Phases are going on all the time for creative people…and it starts with Noticing. Noticing a problem that no one has solved, noticing a solution for one type of problem that might be great in another situation. Noticing something unusual.
You can practice noticing. Take a look at this article by Steve Portigal & Dan Soltzberg:
This process of noticing once and then noticing again is how you start finding patterns and uncovering themes. For example, in the throbbing Shibuya skyline we noticed enormous video billboards for a new album by Ayumi Hamasaki (who we’d obviously never heard of). Then we saw trucks driving through the streets with billboards on the side promoting the same album. A few days later we passed the stadium and there was a huge crowd going to see her in concert. And along the street were dozens of vans that Ayumi Hamasaki fans had customized with pictures of her face. It’s not that we wouldn’t have walked past all these things, but that the activity of noticing the first one, and documenting it, meant that I was ready to notice and document the second, and beyond. So when we saw the concert crowd and the vans, we were able to connect it: “Oh, this is the performer that we’ve been seeing all the ads for.” This process of trying to figure out what’s going on in a new place, of finding and understanding patterns and themes, is exactly what we do in our user research.
In Design Gym language, you’re iteratively doing an Examine and Understand Phase, as you refine your “buckets” of information and experience. What you’ve seen before becomes a lens for what you see next…in fact, can *enable* you to see what is next. To go a bit deeper, take a look at this summary post from Steve Portigal. Once your noticing muscles are strong,you never know what you’ll start noticing.