"I haven’t the time to think, I’m much to busy" - Oh really?

We have either said that to someone, or, had it said to us on many occasions. Yet if we are not thinking, what the hell are we being paid for? A possible retort to that is “I am paid to do, not think”. That underlines why critical thinking is at best skipped over or eliminated altogether in our daily lives and it can be disastrous in business.

The real problem, when we do not think critically, is it shows in the quality of almost everything we do. If you manage or want to manage people how often do you take time to think or reflect on your performance or the decision making process you just went through. You would, I suggest, discover that the amount of critical thinking you involved yourself in almost non-existent. The really bad news is that colleagues, subordinates and peers can easily recognise it, even if they have a tough time acknowledging it in themselves!!

Our thinking is driven by the patterns we have developed from an early age. Good critical thinking comes from asking questions either out loud to colleagues or simply, to one self. Who asks the most questions? .Children. A 4 year old asks on average 300 questions a day, the average college student 20 a day. The child’s most popular question is, as I am sure you can guess is “why”. So we have critical thinking skills and then we lose them – why?

Back to those patterns mentioned above. Everything we do actually do starts with a thought. The response is transmitted in a nano second to our conscious mind where we make an instant judgement on what we have seen, heard, read, tasted, smelled or touched. Without thinking we hit the judgement button -“will not work”, “can’t do that”, “tried it and failed”, “or “When do we start”, “that’s easy”, “and I’m going to like this”and so on. Judgemental calls are both positive and negative.

Critical thinking is all about challenging your own patterns and mechanisms together with those of your subordinates and peers. For those of you who live in fear of challenging your peers it is not what you say, more of how you say it. For example. “that is never going to work” is likely to raise the temperature. “That’s interesting, how would you see that developing” is almost certainly going to give you more information that allows you see the issue differently or influence someone this time to see your view differently.

If we are trying to overcome a problem we settle usually for the first solution that comes up. How often do we challenge that finding or search for another solution and then compare the two? Do use test run the solution before implementing it?

For those of you watch CSI they are always thinking, test running solutions and challenging until they are satisfied with the answer.

The good news is thinking skills can be learnt. You may try very simple ones at first e.g whilst grappling with an issue you find you are leaning towards a certain outcome mainly because it happens to suit you and it is what you naturally do. Look at all the pros and cons of doing this way, then challenge your self or others by asking “what are the alternatives”, “ what is the real issue here”, “what is the opposite to this”, “what will happen if we don’t do this”, the challenges are endless. You need to focus and be objective otherwise it will fail.

Ask questions and keep an open mind. A boss who asks for a 50% increase in revenue will be met by spoken and unspoken dismissive comments, all because without thinking we dismissed the notion. Fast forward and look back now at having achieved that 50% increase and ask yourself and colleagues what actions would we have taken to reach that goal? It starts to break the old pattern of thinking.

Think about a product or service. Could it be big, small, tall , thin heavy, light, dark, colour, metal, wood, rope, string.- the list is endless. For real breakthroughs

·be stupid
·be unreal
·be ridiculous
·be outrageous
·be out of this world

You will quickly spot the non-thinkers as they will be telling you that the idea is stupid without having stopped to think about it. By the way the Roller ball underarm deodorant came from the BIC pen design. Simple really when you start thinking.

You maybe a competent thinker and rely less on other people to craft a theory or develop a plan. However put a group of competent thinkers together with different personalities and you create a groundswell of thinking that will take your learning forward exponentially.

Think about the seemingly impossible. The impossible we can do immediately, miracles take a little longer. Change your thinking and you both change your life and increase your effectiveness – think about it.

This copy first appeared in TTG on 8th October 2004
Almost since formal education started a mere 200 years ago the emphasis has been on the functional/technical aspect of skills development, otherwise known as hard skills. Only recently the London Business School asked CEO’s and business leader’s from100 global companies the qualities they were looking for from MBA graduates. The responses hardly mentioned functional or technical knowledge.

What these CEO’s were looking for were graduates who could think, be more aware. more sensitive, more flexible, more adaptive and capable of being moulded into global executives. In a nutshell, you have above the difference between hard and soft skills. I am not saying that hard skills are irrelevant. Far from it. The challenge for everyone is to blend, synergise both hard and soft skills competently.

Soft skills accelerate communication, learning, change, thinking, creativity, problem solving, decision making and play a huge part in motivating your people. An analogy as to what soft skills are all about. Would you expect to fit a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe? Would you expect to bake a cake with the wrong ingredients or not enough of the right ingredients? Both answer are No and a complete miss-match. In the business context companies are spending billions on I.T. models trying to match and mirror customer profiles and needs with product and service offerings and a lot are finding that a challenge. In the day to day business environment we miss-match all the time. We assume that everyone we communicate with either individually or in a group will hear or interpret the message exactly as we are trying to convey it. How many times have you frustratingly referred to colleagues or clients having completely miss-understood the message you were trying to get across. It’s all their fault isn’t it? WRONG, it’s down to you.

Many exercises can demonstrate that some people prefer detail others the bigger picture, some prefer options whilst others procedures, some are visual thinkers others are auditory or kinaesthetic, some prefer internal self analysis whilst others seek external confirmation. Every individual has numerous pathways that dictate how we communicate. Today if you deliver a message to say 10 people possibly 1, if you are lucky, will interpret the meaning as you intended. The rest are away with the fairies because you simply didn’t communicate with their models. You did not hit the right buttons primarily because you stayed in your comfort zone. Successful soft skills application means entering someone else’s comfort zone. You need the right training to execute that successfully and gain the insight as to how that is done.

People are a competitive advantage. Truly understanding them and being able to communicate effectively is the key to exploiting that competitive advantage.

A staggering 93% of our communication is through non verbal language. That said the 7% that words play are a vital ingredient. As Stephen Covey rightly tells us “seek first to understand then seek to be understood”. That means listening and observation skills, two of the most important soft skills there are.

2006 Web Articles

Complaints are good news, we should be grateful to receive them
Active Listening
Customer Service – going deeper
TTG – Developing soft skills
Effective communication… without words
Killer Sales Presentations – Kill the competition not the audience!
Skills upgrading and considerations
Team Building for Success- Consistently
Thinking? "I haven’t the time to think, I’m much to busy" - Oh really?


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