4 steps to expand your thinking

Our old way of operating may blind us to the best solutions

When most of us face a challenge, we typically fall back on our own way of doing things, or what we learned from what has worked for us in the past. But when we’re faced with complex situations and uncertainty, our old way of operating may blind us to the best solutions.

For example, when preparing for a family holiday backpacking around the world (let’s think big!), we go through a process over a period of time to ensure we have everything we may possibly need. We educate ourselves, plan what we will carry, what/who will meet us and where, and we research the possible routes, pitfalls and distractions. Most importantly we prepare ourselves – our fitness, our health and our mental approach. And that is just for a start.

McKinsey call this “managing the probable”

So how do we change the constraint of thinking? In many of our formative experiences, we’ve learned that some simple problems have one right answer. For more complicated problems, we respond with analysis or look to others with more experience or status. We look for answers that will offer some assurance of predictability, if not outright certainty.

In the business situation, we know we want clarity and certainty. We will ask questions to narrow our focus: What is the expected return on this investment? What is the three-year plan for this venture? What resources will we need? What are the hidden obstacles? Where do we go for advice when we need it?

Asking these kinds of questions – very often legitimate in business-as-usual settings – actually constrain teams in unusual, complex situations, such as responding to a quickly changing market or social demand for change. Deep thinking in organisations, therefore, is at a premium.

So how do we change the constraint of thinking.

What we want you to challenge yourself on first is to move from the known of “managing the probable” to an uncertain concept of “leading the possible”.

This will require us to address challenges in a fundamentally different way by opening up our minds and using a new approach. We must ignore our familiar patterns of thought that keep us stuck in our current way of operating and thinking. Our objective is to expand the possible options, experiment in low-risk ways, and realise potentially large payoffs.

Leading the possible involves coping with our own anxieties about an unknowable and uncontrollable world.  A few simple changes in the thinking structure presented here can help us toward thinking and acting differently.

When we treat challenges as different, complex, and uncertain, we can unlock solutions of immense creativity and power.

So where to start?

01.

The first step is not to focus on “what” you think, but “how” you think.

Your content follows from your structure, not the other way around.

Take the example of a tree – we can’t explain fully what a tree is if we just see the tree. The tree is much more than a tree, its alive and connected to the earth. The tree impacts other plants in the garden as well as the soil it grows in for a start. Then there are the seasons that create a changing tree. It may have blossom, bear fruit or produce something else like rubber. The world, the weather, the local conditions, the animals around it, the human involvement all play a part in the life of a tree.

Therefore the tree becomes a small part of a much larger whole, where there are many, many parts that give us a richer picture to consider.

02.

After becoming aware of your structure, suspend what you know, and open yourself to new experiences.

We all have a Frame of Reference by which we view the world. As I have explained in a previous blog, this Frame of Reference can hold us to ransom with old tried and true ways of thinking based on our experiences.

Be open to a new Frame of Reference – answer questions differently from the past, and even ask new questions. Or just let your current Frame of Reference go.

03.

Leverage a thinking framework called “Thought Forms”

Professor Otto Laske of the Interdevelopmental Institute in Boston teaches dialectical thinking through a framework which he calls “Thought Forms”.

Thought Forms give us the structure that allows us to open our minds to other worlds that we currently do not see – and they can be learned.

04.

Thought Forms fit into four dimensions of reality

To make is easier to get your head around, Thought Forms fit into four different dimensions of reality. These are called: Process, Context, Relationship and Transformation. Each of these dimensions show us a differently structured world, and the Thought Forms within each dimension are the keys to understanding our real world complexity better.
Over the next few weeks I will be introducing you to each of the four different dimensions of thinking commencing with Context.