Improve your THINKING and become a smart-thinker
By Steve Champion
Improve your THINKING and become a smart-thinker
Today people generally take the path of least resistance and unwittingly let others do their thinking for them, and this includes organizations and governments as well as individuals. After all, thinking takes time and is hard work; the pull of modern-day solutions is powerful and persuasive. Other reasons include peer pressure, groupthink, the desire to fit in, and living a busy life in a complex and stressful world with endless distractions.
And another reason is the demand for immediate results, the center of attention being the bottom line and not the factors that create it. All of these conspire to rob us of our ability to think in-depth and arrive at the right solution to a problem, putting us on the back foot, constantly reacting to events, correcting mistakes, and damaging our reputation.
Since this has been the modus operandi for so long in the West, it has led us to think short-term, leading to short-term solutions and being expedient. Short-termism is a disease that has infected Western culture with serious political, economic, and social consequences. For example, the UK government failed to think about the energy needs of the country long-term, so now supply fails to meet demand, with expensive energy prices.
For too long political parties outsourced their thinking to Brussels. They remain wallowing in ideology, minutiae, sloganeering, and making policy on the hoof to suit the mood of the moment, letting their emotions do their thinking with utterly ruinous consequences; society slowly crumbles before our eyes, disintegrating.
How do we overcome these formidable barriers to improve our thinking?
First, there are a few basic ground rules to follow, such as being curious, asking questions, not prejudging. Ensure you have all the facts, give time to digest the information, and imagine the consequences of your decisions, both short-term and long-term. Time and a stress-free place somewhere you won’t be disturbed or distracted is also essential to think smart.
What is needed is somewhere to think, really think, a place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted–the enemies of concentration. In Zimbabwe, I used to go off and walk around a dam site where there were kopjes–heaps of large rocks with trees growing out of them–I’ve only ever seen them in southern Africa. They are beautiful and inspiring places with plenty of greenery, a lovely expanse of water, peaceful and quiet, a calming and soothing atmosphere, and the perfect place.
That’s where I sweated the small stuff, looked at actual and potential problems, and worked through what-if scenarios by the dozen. As a result, I made more effective decisions, ones that lasted, and this increased my confidence, and my professional reputation grew. However, what matters is that it suits you.
Beware; the intelligence trap!
The intelligence trap is a bad habit among people from all walks of life today. It’s where someone uses their intelligence to make a quick decision instead of thinking things through and then using that same intelligence to defend their decision.
First, it pushes the problem down the track to be dealt with again, wasting time; it’s grossly inefficient and expensive. Second, it destroys your reputation and kills your promotion prospects since problem-solving and decision-making are core competencies.
Exercise the thinking-muscle
Think until it hurts (don’t fret, you won’t break anything) to find the right solution, then you can execute it confidently. The thinking muscle gets stronger, fitter, and healthier with regular workouts, and then thinking things through in-depth becomes quicker. Another way to improve the depth and quality of the way you think is to redirect it from short-term (tactical) to long-term (strategic). And Strategic-Thinking is a subject that I taught for several years. When you focus on the factors that make up the bottom line, the results will take care of themselves.
Many factors will go into your particular bottom line, but the principles are getting the job done on time, to cost, and to quality. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, as your reputation and future depend on it. Improve your thinking, solve problems more effectively, make better decisions, and gain a reputation for getting it right first time and management notices. Continually exercise the thinking muscle to keep it fit and strong.
Tools help to organize and improve your thinking, such as Edward De Bono’s “Six thinking hats,” and an internet search will reveal many others. Remember, the tools that are easy to understand and quick to learn are more likely to be used, so the simpler, the better. Here I mention a few.
One of the easiest and simplest tools is Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving men; their names are Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. This rudimentary tool is surprisingly powerful but enables you to question every aspect of the problem or goal you want to achieve. Another technique is to conduct a barriers exercise.
The advantage of a barriers exercise is that it focuses on the obstructions and necessitates a search for possible solutions. Should the barriers remain invisible when a failure occurs, it leads to frustration because you don’t know what went wrong or why. Therefore, you will repeat the same mistakes because you are in the dark. It is also costly and damages your morale, confidence, and motivation.
On the other hand, when you know what the barriers are, you can counter them, and if you can’t, knowing what they are can lessen the frustration because you are no longer boxing with shadows. But if the barriers are too high to overcome, you know you need to look for an alternative way forward.
Imagine that you want to achieve an advanced qualification as a step towards promotion; the first pass of a barriers exercise might produce the following:
Barriers to achieving an advanced qualification
Internal Possible solutions
Lack of some fundamental skills Focus on improving these skills first
Lack of confidence Overcome a fear or learn a new skill
External Possible solutions
Family commitments–limited time Seek input & help from family
Lack of money–the course is expensive Undertake one module at a time.
When conducting a barriers exercise, it takes several passes to gain a realistic picture of the situation.
Smart thinking requires a stress-free atmosphere with no distractions; so you can think things through thoroughly–enabling you to make better decisions, prevent waste, and keeps you efficient. Smart-thinkers are independent thinkers, which is crucial for true success as they question the status quo–leaders have this trait, so you’re in good company.
This article is from my book How to Revolutionize Your Working Life and advance your career and is based on empirical data gained from various cultures over several decades. Once I find the right publisher, it will be available to the public.
Copyright © Stephen R. Champion
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Experienced manager, corporate trainer, and management consultant; specializing in troubleshooting and reengineering departments internationally. Implementing changes to improve performance for individuals, teams, and companies.
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