Blocks to Thinking

Blocks to Thinking

Thinking, like communicating, is one of those functions we think we should be good at because we do it all the time, do it without effort and have done it for all of our waking lives.

Thinking, like communicating, is one of those functions we think we should be good at because we do it all the time, do it without effort and have done it for all of our waking lives. But there is a difference between just doing something like thinking or communicating and doing it well. Just as with communicating effectively, what stops us from thinking effectively for much of the time are the perceptual, emotional, cultural and environmental blocks that get in the way. Here are 7 of those blocks.

4.1 Assumptions

When we assume, we often make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Assumptions are examples of lazy thinking. We simply don’t wait to get all the information we need to come to the right conclusions. There is the story of the customer at the bank who after cashing a cheque and turning to leave, returns and says: “Excuse me, I think you made a mistake.” The cashier responds, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do. You should have counted it. Once you walk away we are no longer responsible.” Whereupon the customer replies: “Well, okay. Thanks for the extra $20.”

Tip: When you feel yourself wanting to draw conclusions, just wait until you have all the information.

4.2 See Things from Other Points Of View

A truly open mind is willing to accept that, not only do other people have other just as valid points of view from theirs, but that these other points of view may be more valid. A story is told that the modernist painter Pablo Picasso was once travelling on a train across Spain when he got into conversation with a rich businessman who was dismissive of modern art. As evidence that modern art didn’t properly represent reality, he took out a photo of his wife from his wallet and said: “This is how my wife should look, not in some silly stylized representation.” Picasso took the photo, studied it for a few moments and asked: “This is your wife?” The businessman proudly nodded. “She’s very small,” observed Picasso wryly.

Tip: Don’t have a monopoly on how things are. Things aren’t always what they seem. Be ready to consider other points of view.

4.3 Thinking and Doing

It is part of Western intellectual tradition that the thinking part of a decision is separate from the implementation part of the decision, as if the decision was one thing and the implementation something quite different. Hence the gulf between those who take decisions, often in positions of authority, and those who carry them out: thinkers and doers. In Oriental philosophy, which has a much longer tradition than Western philosophy, the gap is not understood. Here there is no gulf between thinking and doing. There is only process. A decision and its implementation are part and parcel of the same thing. This means that the decision can be changed as the implementation proceeds, just as the method of implementation can be changed if the decision is reviewed in the light of new information.

Tip: Involve implementers in the decision process.

4.4 Get Rid Of Lazy Thinking Habits

Habit can be a major stumbling block to clear thinking and another example of laziness. Try this experiment. Write down the Scottish surnames Macdonald, Macpherson, and Macdougall and ask someone to pronounce them. Now follow these with the word Machinery and see what happens. Most people are likely to mis-pronounce it. This is because we tend to think in habitual ways and don’t like what doesn’t fit.

Tip: Don’t think that, just because things happened in a certain way once before, they will happen like that every time.

4.5 Think like A Child

Research shows that the number of synapses, or connections, in the brain is greater in a child of two than in an average adult. The reason for this is that a child of two has no limiting world view, as adults do. It’s like a sculptor who starts off with a large block of clay that can become anything. As he gradually removes the clay, the possibilities in his sculpture become less and less until it represents just what he’s looking for. If we use our brain like a child, accepting everything without judgment, we can actually halt and reverse the brain ageing process and become fully open-minded again.

Tip: With the right stimulus and a passion for wonder, you can think like a child again.

4.6 See the Detail As Well As the Big Picture

There is a poem by John Godfrey Saxe called “The Blind Men and the Elephant”. It tells how six blind men of Indostan go to see an elephant and each try to work out what it is from touching it. One blind man touches the tusk, another the trunk, another the tail, and so on. Of course, not being able to see the whole elephant, they disagree about what the animal is. When we see the detail and the full picture, it is easier to give everything its right context.

Tip: Try to keep the big picture in front of you while looking at the details. It will help to put everything in its proper place. See the full poem here:

4.7 Think For Yourself

Taking time out to think is still frowned on in many organizations that prize activity over creativity. People who work in creativity-constrained organizations are likely to think the way they are supposed to think, or as others think, or as has always been the way to think. It’s like the blinkered thinking that Hans Christian Anderson describes in his story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Everyone in the land refuses to see that the emperor is naked and has been duped into believing he is wearing a splendid costume for his coronation. Only a young boy who has been ill and not party to the cultural brainwashing can see the truth and cries out: “Look, everyone, the Emperor is wearing no clothes!”

Tip: Don’t let others tell you how to think. When others ask your opinion, tell it to them straight.

4.8 Time to Think

One of the biggest stumbling-blocks to thinking is that, in many organisations, we still don’t recognize that it is sometimes more important than activity. Here is a story that illustrates an anti-thinking attitude.

The car-maker Henry Ford hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant. He said: “Find the unproductive people. Tell me who they are and I’ll fire them!” The expert made his rounds with his clipboard in hand and finally returned to Henry Ford’s office with his report. “I’ve found a problem with one of your managers,” he said. “Every time I walked past his office, he was sitting with his feet propped on the desk doing nothing. I definitely think you should consider getting rid of him.” When Ford asked who the man was, he shook his head and said: “I can’t fire him. I pay that man to do nothing but think. And that’s what he’s doing.”

Each of us has the power to think clearly. It’s part of our natural make-up as human beings. The trouble is that, too often, we block our natural thinking ability and so make errors in judgment. By unblocking your thinking, by not judging, not making assumptions, and not blindly accepting the views of others, you can access the full creativity of your thinking.

4.9 Key Points

1. We often make wrong assumptions about what we see because of prejudice and false expectations.

2. We each see the world differently because of our thoughts; every “thing” is a think”.

3. Thinking like a child is more open and creative because it is not layered with years of learning and habit.

4. Culturally-accepted ways of thinking can sometimes limit us to thinking in familiar ways.

5. Well-directed and well-trained thinking is always more productive than activity.

6. Successful enterprises need original thinking if they are to avoid blindly following the thinking of the majority.

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