Be more original - without trying too hard! - Business Works
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Be more original - without trying too hard!

by Martin Cohen, Author Running a business today can be tough, the more so when you have to be effective, innovative, and maybe even 'mindful' and so on. Right? Not at all, this is all old thinking, looking at how to maintain or re-achieve past states. The new world requires new approaches and new thinking. So 'spring cleaning' your ideas is vital whatever your position. And here's a few pointers to get you started, says Martin Cohen, Author of the much-acclaimed book Critical Thinking Skills for Dummies.

1. Use the reptile mind

When dealing with any issue, always have three strategies. Sounds like extra work? But getting new ideas is worth a few extra minutes. So, actually write each strategy down. The amazing thing is that the human mind rebels at being asked to come up with three answers, so by the end of the process the logical centres of the brain have switched off and the much more powerful 'reptile mind' takes over. This part has no respect for conventions and is instead driven solely by primitive impulses and desires. It's smart.

The 'triad' is also a central philosophical notion and reappears in the idea of dialectical thinking. Here, the first thing you come up with is naturally followed by a counter-example - and the third case unites the opposites in amore powerful synthesis.

2. Delegate

Of course, once you know that's the plan, the trick won't work. So, instead of you writing out three solutions, make other people do it and then you take credit for spotting the great ideas.

In academic, and indeed business research, the vast bulk of work is actually pointless - because it has already been done - and published - by someone else. We tend to be a bit lazy though in doing the preliminaries - be it preparing a wall to paint or preparing a new product line - and the end result is the same. Problems later.

3. Think in circles

At school, and even later at college, we are encouraged, indeed forced, to think in straight lines. To start at the beginning, work our way through the middle and then stop at the end. But in life, things are more complicated than that. Nature is all about cycles - and circles. Processes should be designed to repeat and to continue - not to charge along a track and then come to an abrupt stop.

4. Embrace uncertainty

Problems, at first sight, are a form of chaos. We think that they need to be analysed and 'broken down'. But how do we get from chaos to order? Is it a kind of magic? Well, yes and no. The key thing is to relax. It really does help to go off to the pub, or for a walk in the park So stir up all the issues, embrace complexities - and then make time and space for the dust to settle.

5. Hone your design skills

Embrace design skills? Sounds odd? But these skills are not about making things out of wood or fabric in the workshop, but rather, draw on ideas and experience from social science, business and computer studies. The philosophy of design is actually very old and pre-dates engineering. One key characteristic is that it puts the human factor at the heart of solutions, another is that when you have a strategy, you prototype it - and you value feedback.

6. Just ask why?

As a general rule, asking 'why?' leads to ever more general, 'abstract' replies. These statements are often more meaningful, if not as directly applicable, as the first answers. If you're talking about gardening or landscaping to someone, don't ask "When is the best time of year to plant trees?", but rather "Tell me about your successes and failures in planting trees". The first question will get a pretty short answer (such as, "In the Autumn"), whereas the second may produce unexpected extra information.

and don't hesitate to think 'Outside the Box'

The box, in this case, being 'logic'. There's an assumption that being logical and rational is the most powerful way of thinking compared with being emotional and intuitive. One of the most influential voices in this regard is the American psychologist, Daniel Kahnemann whose splitting of thinking into two kinds brought him the accolade of Nobel Prize.

Critical thinking for dummies by Martin Cohen One example he offers is of a bat and a ball which together cost £1.10. Add to which, the bat costs one pound more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? 'System one', as Kahnemann calls it, fast thinking, instinctive thinking, jumps out with an answer: ten pence! Alas, the answer is wrong. It requires slow thinking to come up with the right answer - and the strategy of distrusting your intuition. Well, OK, if you're running your business using lousy maths, you are going to go bust. But how about it you are relying on intuitions about human motivations?

Laszlo Bock, "Vice President of People Operations" (!) at Google gives a different perspective: "On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don't predict anything."

Google found that what did seem to matter was how people had dealt with novel, open-ended issues in the past. Those who'd succeeded then, were the ones who did best in the future too.

You can read and learn more from Martin's book: Critical thinking for dummies

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