Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Think better

Why is it important?

Today's fast-paced work world means that the ability to think on your feet, react to a range of situations as well as spot an opportunity at five paces are integral to being a modern manager.
We are often required to make quick decisions under pressure, and such decisions must be based on a proper analysis of the facts rather than on conjecture or preconceptions. Sharpening your thought processes will help ensure you know the right thing to do at the right time and help to apply new ways of thinking to situations that arise.
Many of us believe that we have little control over the way we think. This isn't the case, and learning more about how your mind works will also help with self-improvement and career advancement.

Where do I start?

An analysis of your thought processes begins with heightened self-awareness and an assessment of your thinking style and how you usually solve problems. Do you take an analytical approach or does it tend to be more intuitive? Are you experimental? Or is your style more reflective?
If you've never taken one before, perform an online emotional intelligence test. The higher your emotional intelligence rating, the greater your self-knowledge and self-awareness, both of which are key to understanding your thought processes. Similarly, psychometric questionnaires such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) will help you learn more about your core mental functions.
"Knowing your default preferences and habits, you are in a better position to broaden your thinking skills toolbox," says Phil Smith, senior consultant at business psychology company YSC.
Explore other viewpoints
Avoid taking the path of least resistance. A common trap we all fall into is to simply look for something that confirms what we are doing rather than challenge it.
The 20th century philosopher Karl Popper alerts us to this tendency to look for evidence to support our actions, explains Rachel Short, senior consultant at YSC.
"When often one piece of contradictory evidence would be enough to make us reject our line of thinking and look elsewhere," she says. "We need to challenge our almost automatic tendency to filter out pieces of data that do not support initial assumptions and challenge our own most comfortable assumptions."
Train your brain
Like any part of your body, your brain will respond to exercise. Put yourself in the position of being challenged mentally whenever possible. Take on new tasks, reappraise how you approach existing ones, play devil's advocate in meetings rather than accept the party line and force yourself out of your comfort zone and into situations where you know you will learn something. Look at different perspectives and listen to the points of view of others. Open your mind, be experimental and don't limit your thinking. Above all, don't be afraid to fail as fear will limit your thinking. Stimulate the mind even when not at work whether by reading more or doing a crossword or Sudoku puzzle at lunchtime or even playing computer games.
Record your experiences
Make a note of how you react to significant situations at work and what your decision or actions led to, whether the outcome was positive or negative. When things haven't worked out for the best, are there any trends or traits in your thinking and subsequent actions that you can pick up on? What caused you to approach the problem in this way? Did you make assumptions and base a decision on previous experience rather than challenge what went before. Visualise what the outcome might have been if you'd been more experimental in your thinking. Study the professionals.
While it is easy to get swamped by some of the theories that surround thinking and how the mind works, reading up on the work of experts such as Edward de Bono, who pioneered the concept of lateral thinking, and Tony Buzan, originator of the Mind Map, will further enlighten you as to how your mind works and offer plenty of mental stimulation.
If you only do 5 things
1 Develop your self-awareness.
2 Refrain from looking for affirmation of your theories.
3 Place yourself in mentally challenging situations.
4 Keep a log of the effect of your actions.
5 Devote time to mental activities outside of work.

Expert's view: improving your thinking
What should be done?
Apart from developing self-awareness about your thinking style, set up challenging mechanisms, get others to play devilÕs advocate, test yourself against rigorous standards, raise your goals, take on more challenging problems, take on different kinds of problems, and deliberately try to learn things you normally do not enjoy.
Research shows that the gradual decay of mental ability with age can be significantly slowed by remaining deliberately mentally active.
How can improvements be measured?
One method is to keep track of critical incidents when your thinking has let you down or led you astray, and analyse and reflect on them to see if you can spot any patterns.
Another is to be disciplined about keeping before and after mental records. If you are devoting time to mental training, can you point to the kind of result where you are expecting a difference? Is there a difference?
Top tips:
Don't assume what has worked in the past works now or will continue to work in the future - always look for current supporting (and undermining) evidence.
Beware the sunk-cost effect - don't fall into the trap of investing more effort into shoring up a poor decision when it is rational to cut your losses and start over.
Engage others to challenge and broaden your perspective. Get everyone to brainstorm individually before sharing, as this improves the range and variety of ideas.

by Rachel Short, Senior consultant, YSC

No comments: