For someone like me who is at ease in front of an audience, it surprised me that I was nervous about making a video. What do you think about this?
What sites, blogs, or newsletters do you subscribe to now to improve your thinking and decision-making?
Everyone and anyone can improve and it should get better the older you are and the more you have learned and practiced over the years. So what do you do to get better all the time?
Please respond to let me know. Also if you ask your friends and associates the same question, you will start a great conversation.
Recognizing and overcoming mental blind spots.
It may seem strange to say that you see with your brain. Yes, the eyes are the windows. They let in the light waves and movement that get interpreted by the brain. If the ocular nerve (going from the eyes to the brain) or the part of the brain that interprets the signals is damaged, you don’t see. You are blind even though there may be nothing wrong with your eyes.
We can also have a mental blind spot or mental lack of hearing spot because we are not paying attention. Our brain has learned to ‘block out’ sights and sounds that have proven in the past not to be important to you. You may not notice that there is music playing or people having a conversation in the next room until someone brings it to your attention.
Mental blind spots can be there in a person’s brain about any subject and not just about sight or hearing. You may be listening but not paying attention to someone talking to you, maybe even your spouse or parent, until suddenly they say something you really care about. At that point it is as if your brain suddenly wakes up and pays attention.
You can be driving along the streets in your city and not take any notice whether parking is readily available until you get to the street where you will need parking.
There was a story several years ago about a man who had a large family but not much income. During a hot summer spell his children started begging for an above ground pool for the back yard. He told them he couldn’t afford it. Then he left for work driving on the same highway and streets he took five days a week. Suddenly he noticed a sign behind a house he was passing that said, “Above ground 15’ pool, free, to anyone who can pick it up.” He pulled off at the next exit and found the house. When he rang the doorbell he asked,”is the pool still available? How long have you had that sign up?” To his surprise the sign had been up for two months. He had been passing it nearly every day and not taken notice until his children raised his awareness of wanting a pool. His children got the pool they wanted.
We have to turn on our brain to a subject. We have to be paying attention. That is why trying to multitask gets in our way so often. If you are looking at your phone you can’t be paying attention to the meeting you are attending, or the road while you are driving.
Have you ever made a decision and then immediately started to second-guess yourself? You likely kept going back over the problem and how you solved it and then began to have doubts.
Or maybe you developed a great solution to a work problem only to find that your associates and boss don’t see it your way and you can’t figure out how to convince them with your logic that you can see so clearly.
If you have been following my writings and speeches for a while you know that decision-making is one of my main topics. I work with groups to help them sharpen their decision-making thinking and their tools for explaining their results.
I just finished reading “How the Wise Decide” by Zeckhauser and Sandusky. They spent years researching the subject by interviewing great leaders. In a sense they have given me proof to quote for the methods I have been advocating for some time. This should give you extra comfort in applying these techniques.
I definitely recommend the book.
The authors culled the principles into 6 main categories.
- Go directly to the source yourself. Even though the leaders they studied ran very large organizations and had tremendous responsibilities, these leaders said that instead of taking all their information filtered through their reports they felt the need to gather some of their intelligence directly from the source, the customers, suppliers, or others.
- Seek out people who will not be afraid to tell you that you are wrong. Use advisors with enough diversity of backgrounds and thinking styles to allow you to see your topic from several different viewpoints. These leaders wanted to see and hear opinions challenged (but not personal attacks).
- Treat risk as one of the parameters to be compared not something to be avoided. Also very interesting: reward good decisions even when the end result doesn’t work out. We can’t know which is the best decision out of alternatives but we can compare and choose good decisions. Openly discuss failures and missteps to learn from them, not to blame. When I was in direct sales I sat down with my manager and team to go over what I had done to try to win a sale and what had gone wrong. We could all learn from my mistakes instead of descending into denial.
- Keep the organization’s vision front-and-center. Make decisions based on whether or not it moves the organization closer to the vision
- “Listen with purpose.” My expression is to “listen for meaning.” Both descriptions help you focus on what is being said in a way that allows you to understand and paraphrase back.
- Be transparent in leading your organization. Share how and why decisions were made. Challenges, vision, and mission guide the leader as well as everyone else in the organization.
One more point I would add, the best decisions are not one-time unique situations but are made up of a series of smaller decisions that are part of an overall strategy.
Cultivate Curiosity, Yours and Your Associates
Young children are naturally curious. Too often we get impatient with their incessant questions and dampen their curiosity. Curiosity is a good thing, even a great thing.
With associates as with children, it may be advantageous to ask them a question when they ask you for an answer. How have you tried to answer this so far? Or how could you explore the idea yourself to find possible answers? Be sure to encourage the thought that there may be several good answers not just one. What options have you thought of, so far? How can you search out multiple options and then make a choice among the options?
As with all questions you ask, unless you are a teacher testing your students, only ask questions you are not already certain of the answer. You have to be open to the ideas and answers you will hear. You have to want to hear creative and unusual answers.
Ask, how will you explore options and compare them?
Here are some ideas to share as ways to compare and contrast possible paths to make thoughtful conclusions.
- Force yourself or your team to write down as many options as possible. Challenge yourselves to list at least 10 ways to solve the problem, or some number that requires a bigger list than you think is possible. The reason for the stretch list is that the first ones you think about will be the same old boring over-used answers. It is only when you have to come up with larger numbers of answers that you get into the creative and interesting solutions.
- Some ideas that would normally get rejected without exploring will make it on to the list.
- Every option listed deserves some what-if and how-could-it-work analysis.
- Combinations and permutations of the various options can sometimes evolve into a better solution than any of the answers listed individually.
- The process of brainstorming options will get your brain on a roll allowing you to keep coming up with more ideas after you thought you were finished. Keep paper and pencil or a recorder handy and record every idea no matter how far-fetched.
Your brand, your organization and you yourself will be differentiated by all the great ideas, solutions, and the ideation process itself. People are attracted by and buy from organizations that are clearly differentiated.
I am very pleased to introduce you to my email newsletter. It will periodically provide you with useful information about brainstorming and critical thinking techniques. I will also share with you related news and announcements. I hope you find my newsletter useful and informative and I encourage you to share the information with others.
Too often our business conversations sound more like a sales presentation, and a poor one at that. Consider that your listener can find data, information, and knowledge by looking it up on the internet or in books. What they need and can appreciate is the wisdom to recognize how, when, where, why, and with whom to apply the knowledge. Think about the level of conversations in which you participate. How can you contribute more to move up a level. This is a hierarchy of the kind of conversations possible:
Perhaps you heard the old adage, “You have two ears and one mouth, you should be listening twice as much as talking.” Here’s another one: “You can’t learn anything new when you are talking.” Listening well, listening for meaning, shows your respect for the other person, wins friends, and allows you to pick up different perspectives on a situation even if it doesn’t change your mind.
There is no better way to show respect than to really listen.
I was a geek mathematician at one time who got curious about why some people couldn’t understand some mathematical concepts like fractions. So I did my dissertation research on the subject and the answers I found led to more questions about how people learn and why not all people learned the same way or at the same pace. And as I did what many people do, move from one profession to another, one job to another, I got immersed in computer artificial intelligence as it compared to human intelligence, what intelligence is anyway, and how to apply my interests and what I researched to the way people approach and understand business decisions and general thinking.
That may sound like a long road but, looking back, it was a natural progression for me.
Now I speak and write about business decision-making, how to improve and explain and have confidence in one’s own decision-making. We all have funny and poignant stories about decisions we’ve made in the past.
What are yours?
Do you prefer to download a book and be able to start reading immediately? Or do you like a hardcopy to make notes in the margins, underline and highlight?
I’d love to hear about your preferences.
Most of the time I prefer an EBook on my iPad. But sometimes I want to be able to easily look through, look for notes I made, and get a feel for how the whole book is organized. Then I absolutely need to have the ‘real’ book in my hands.
What about you?
Listen for meaning
Everyone can learn to listen better though some are already better than others naturally. The trick to help you focus is to be listening for meaning. Hearing the words, even repeating the words is no guarantee that you understood what was said. Listen and clarify for meaning not the words.
Some tips to improve your listening for meaning:
1. Paraphrase what was said. Then ask did you get it right. Paraphrasing is not repeating the words, instead it is restating in your own words an shorter, simpler, more straightforward if necessary. Consider a situation in which someone said something short in a language you don’t understand. you can repeat the words but still have no idea what they meant. They will even say you got it right if you ask them.
2. Ask for a diagram. Draw a quick picture, stick figures and arrows can be very effective. Or use mind mapping or a flow diagram. Don’t worry about getting the diagram perfect. The purpose is improving communication and understanding, that’s all.
3. Ask for an example.
4. End with, “Did I get that right or what did I get wrong?”
I’m a TED fanatic. Ideas worth spreading. The short presentations are on such a myriad of subjects that anyone can find their interest. Or they can find a new interest.
In order to give a short presentation the presenter must have culled well. What is left gets to the point quickly and clearly.
When someone sends me an hour long video, a rambling interview, or a lengthy seminar I want to scream at them, “give me the summary, what are your main points?” Use a mind map and get your topic down to its essence, it’s key words, it’s key phrases, what you most want others to take away.