Without knowing it, we’re constantly hindering ourselves from thinking productively and solving problems. The good news is, this is easy to remedy. Here are five things we do that hinder productive thought and five things we can do to think better.
Five reasons your problems aren’t being solved:
- Thinking that you can’t! When you think you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t. Negative expectations or a pessimistic view will ensure that you don’t pour enough energy into finding a better way. So think about what ‘could be’. What an optimist would do in this situation?
- Using the same reasoning that got you to where you are. Einstein put it perfectly when he said; “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Challenge your problem-solving methods. Learn some new approaches.
- Following that silly rule that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unless, of course, you would prefer to still be using a typewriter! The best bet is to look at the things that DO work to find out why, and then make them even better.
- Blame and recrimination. It’s unbelievable how much energy is wasted on making sure someone else carries the can. One political party blames the other, management blame the staff, husband blames the wife, children blame the parents, and parents blame the school. Think what MIGHT be possible if we decided to work together to find solutions!
- Fear of being wrong. We often don’t put forward enough ideas because we worry too much about whether people will like them or not. The cliché is true… there is no such thing as a bad idea.
Five things we can do to help us think more productively:
- Take the time to understand what’s going on. What’s the itch? What bugs you about the current situation? Make a note of everything you know about the situation, who else is involved and why it bugs you. Make sure you are not determined to ‘buy a house in the country’ when the real problem is proximity to the in-laws. Be sure that you are asking the right question before you start searching for the best solution.
- Look in different places for possible solutions. Go to the bookshop and buy a couple of magazines you have never bought before. Search different articles for new perspectives. You’ll be amazed at the different approaches to problem solving adopted by different interest groups.
- Draw a picture of the problem. Then think about what it would be like to have already solved the problem and draw a picture of what that might look like. This forces you to use your ‘right-brain’ to describe the situation rather than using the more conventional ‘left-brain’ listing process.
- Ask lots of questions – and ask lots of people. It just doesn’t matter if you don’t have the best solution at your fingertips. In fact, if you do find a solution straight away, it’s more than likely that it won’t be the best one. The more options and opinions you uncover, the better your solution will be. But make sure you ask a variety of people – if you ask a dozen accountants you are very likely to come away with a financial solution. Ask the butcher as well. And listen to their reply – generally speaking, if your lips are moving, you are not learning much.
- Separate your thinking. It’s just not possible to think ‘creatively’ and to think ‘critically’ at the same time. First, use creative thinking techniques to list all the ideas that come to mind. Make sure to include the really wild ideas in the list. Then choose the best idea to work on for the moment. You can always go back and choose another option later. Make lists, then make choices.
Ken Wall is the CEO of The Thinking Network, a consultancy which focuses on implementing a more productive way of thinking – helping organisations think better, work better, do better.
Photo: brain_blogger (flickr)