May 1, 05
When was the last time you examined the quality of your thinking? How often do you wish you had asked better questions during a meeting with a prospective customer or with your colleagues? How often did you just accept a point of view just because you did not have the time to find out more or did not have the courage to question?
The article this month allows you to reflect and examine long held views and to find out whether you are a prisoner of your point of view and how to overcome it.
You can begin right away by reading this inspiring poem “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest.
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say no till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
Are you a prisoner of your point of view?
From the rapid changes in the way business is done to the new skill sets that are being required, never before has so much been asked from us as individuals, as employees, as entrepreneurs, as parents and as teachers. Familiar boundaries are vanishing; new ones are being drawn only to be erased before we have understood what they mean!
While we know and understand conceptually the need to embrace change, to come up with radical solutions and think out of the box, how often do we do it? Does our way of thinking constrain and bind us in fixed ways and patterns? Is there any person who has not faced “This is how we do things around here” and more often than not accepted it?
When music fans (adults and kids alike) were making audio CD’s and sharing songs in MP3 format online, it took the creative mind of Steve Jobs to notice this phenomenon to come up with iPod! At the end of 2004, over 10 million iPods had been sold achieving a 525% iPod unit growth over same quarter the previous year! How do you learn to make connections of seemingly disparate occurences? How do you prepare your mind to be open to ideas that might seem contradictory to your existing way of doing things, current business or role?
One of the biggest barriers that often prevent us from examining fresh ideas or trying out new ideas is our mind-set: We are all shaped by our past experiences, role expectations, values and education. Richard J. Heuer, Jr. in his book ‘Psychology of Intelligence Analysis’ says, “intelligence failures are usually caused by failures of analysis, not failures of collection. Relevant information is discounted, misinterpreted, ignored, rejected, or overlooked because it fails to fit a prevailing mental model or mind-set. The ‘signals’ are lost in the ‘noise’.” This is true for businesses too!
How can we ensure that we are open to new ideas and thoughts and know when it is time to re-examine the way we think or do certain things?
What can we do to train our minds to seize and capitalize on new opportunities and come up with radical solutions?
Thinking critically: How often in a day do you pay attention to the quality of your thinking? Do you reflect on your worst thinking in a day or whether you have thought through all possible scenarios for a given situation? Do you analyze whether the quality of your thinking can be improved?
Authors of the book ‘Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life’ Richard Paul and Linda Elder call critical thinking as the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. 2500 years ago, Socrates established a method of questioning that highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency which today is called “Socratic Questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy.
Asking questions: The studies of thinkers like Einstein and Newton show that their discoveries are more a testimony of their questioning and probing minds rather that of genius. Newton, at 19 and uninterested in the set curriculum at Cambridge, drew up a list of questions under 45 heads. His title: “Quaestiones” signalled his goal: constantly to question the nature of matter, place, time and motion.
On asked how he had discovered the law of universal gravitation, he said, “By thinking on it continually I keep the subject constantly before me and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
Most of us do not ask enough questions! And people who ask too many questions make the others around them very uncomfortable! Yet, Good Thinkers ask questions that penetrate below the surface and force the other person to think and respond. If you study the lives of inventors and successful leaders, we often realize that it is their ability to go to the root of a complex problem or the ability to ask ‘Is there not a better way to do this’ that differentiates them.
Keep tinkering: Keep experimenting, coming up with new ways of doing something. Inventors and creators, besides loving what they do; are experimenting all the time.
“Whenever anything has interested me, I have instinctively tried to invent a new or better way of doing it.” Says Luis Alvarez, Nobel Prize winning Physicist and Inventor.
Alyque Padamsee the ‘ad guru of India’ and director of 63 plays has this advice to give; “have three words of wisdom to offer : 1. Ideate 2. Ideate 3. IDEATE!. Try this simple exercise every time you see something being done slowly or inefficiently or badly – think of a way to do it speedily, more efficiently and better. If you practice this mind aerobics every day you will soon be able to ideate in a positive curve.”
Practise, Practise and Practise: The movie, ‘Apollo 13’ demonstrates how the team on the ground thought ‘out of the box’ under severe time constraint and with the additional pressure of knowing that failure meant the death of the three astronauts on board the space craft.
After the explosion on board Apollo 13 the three astronauts had to stay in the Lunar module that had been designed to handle the carbon dioxide output of two people for about 30 hours, rather than three people for at least four days. Unfortunately the square Command Module canisters that could absorb the carbon dioxide wouldn’t fit into the round holes of the Lunar Module unit. If a solution was not quickly found to use the square ones, the carbon dioxide content of the cabin air would rise to poisonous levels long before the crew could get home.
The team on the ground had to literally make the “square peg fit a round hole” using materials such as suit hoses, card board and stowage bags that were on the spacecraft.
Such out of the box solutions do not come out of the blue! Getting our minds to understand patterns in random thoughts and see possibilities where none exist requires rigorous training. We need to train our minds just like an athlete trains his body!
While most of us might not have to put our skills to use in ‘life or death’ situations, putting the above lessons into practice will raise our levels of thinking and help us in achieving our goals and desires.
A summary of the Apollo 13 Flight
Psychology of Intelligence Analysis – The book
Great resource on ‘Critical Thinking’
Various stories of inventors and importance of play
Interview of Alyque Padamsee
Suggestion of the Month
This tip is from one of my favourite authors, Ruskin Bond’s book, “Comfort”.
“Some people are always complaining because roses have thorns. Let us be grateful that thorns have roses.”
Take the time to smell the roses!
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