By Stephen W. Hiemstra
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
We seldom learn alone. From a young age, we learn to take advice and our teachers, mentors, friends, and family guide and instruct us. We read: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Prov 19:20) While such advice may seem obvious, it frequently ignored. Many articles and studies cite few sources and give little evidence that they consulted anyone. A long list of references at the end of a report signals that the author has done his homework and can likely be trusted.
The first step in any research project is to consult the literature on the subject being studied. Few topics are truly new and, even when they are, prior research may have answered a similar question. Many academic fields of study invent entirely new terminology for what may be an ancient topic. This problem of new terminology may make a trip to the library (or to Google) seem pointless, but it points to the need to consult with advisers who can frame the proper terminology.
Resistance to consulting others frequently starts with pride or shame or the desire to take credit for the work. We may be too proud to ask for advice or be ashamed that we are not already experts on the subject. The desire to take credit for an innovation often motivates the keeping of secrets, but it also limits our productivity. A simple word of advice can eliminate many hours of searching and reduce the number of errors committed in the process. Working as a professional researcher, I often discovered in the final stages of a project a book or report that I wish that I had started with.
Of course, not all advisers can be trusted and ideas are frequently stolen. One reason for this problem arises because the hardest step in the scientific method is the problem definition. One of my most helpful professors used to add an additional step to the method before the problem definition: felt need. A felt need reflects a concern without a clear idea of how usefully to frame the discussion. Once the problem is defined, the remainder of the research is a matter of filling in the blank. Thus, an adviser or a reviewer must be trusted enough to know that they will not steal an idea or, in an administrative context, take over (or kill) your research project.
This problem is no different in a personal context. Sharing with a friend that you like someone entails the risk that they will realize that your relationship is uncertain and they could be emboldened to step in and initiate their own relationship. Talking about a job that you have applied for could invite competition or, alternatively, poisoning the well—your boss or co-workers may not want to see you advance or leave them.
Still, good friends and supportive colleagues will want you to be successful—to do your best work, to advance your career, and to find happiness. Working together and offering helpful advice speeds the learning process making life much more interesting. In fact, I frequently find prayer does exactly the same thing. When I take time to pray, often the first thing that happens is that God reminds me of something that I neglected to do—call a family member or take care of some unfinished business. With such insights revealed, I often sleep much better after evening prayers.
Johnson, Glenn L. 1986. Research Methodology for Economists: Philosophy and Practice. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.
 Johnson lectured on felt needs but had not formulated the approach when he published his formal work (Johnson 1986, 15).
Teachers, Mentors, Friends, and Family
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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