Thinking Through 2014

When you bought that tablet/phone/shoes/car/[insert here] as a Christmas present, or sales bargain, obviously you went through the pros and cons and then made a rational decision, no question.  For those of you who actually did, stop reading, this blog isn’t for you.  For the other 90% of people, you really need to pay attention here.

We all accept that sometimes we buy things because they look pretty, whether that decision is costing only a few bucks, or the kind of price that makes us lie through our teeth to our loved ones.  But what about the times when we’re patting ourselves on the back for a decision well made, job well done?

Research indicates that a number of different parts of our brain are activated when making decisions.  Cutting through the science, the part of your brain which says ‘oooh, it’s shiny, I like it‘ starts the process and makes the decision, THEN the part of your brain which lists the pros and cons kicks in.  In other words, you make a decision, then you work out how to best rationalise that choice.

Add to this our biases, indecision, lack of information etc. and it’s amazing that we can get out of bed in the morning (and maybe this time of year we can’t even do that!).

Thinking rationally is so obviously important that we never really think about how well we’re doing at it.  Be it thinking through a conversation with a client or constructing an argument in an essay, we make arguments and decisions all the time.

Given how fundamental it is, it’s incredible that we sabotage our productivity on a daily basis by not thinking through what we’thinking through.

So, what can you do about it?

Everyone will have a different strategy.  As with anything, it’s a combination of using the right processes and having the right tools to hand.  For us, it’s:

  • identify your goals right from the start.  Even if it’s a two minute conversation with your colleague, work out in overall terms what you’d like to get across and get out of that interaction;
  • identify the key information you need or want to impart;
  • know your own biases, think about your assumptions and previous experience.  Essentially, just know that you already occupy a position before the conversation or work has even started, and know what that position is;
  • theory never hurts, know the theoretical positions, even if you disagree with them.  It’s always worth knowing and taking the opposite view than not having tried to consider a view which might have benefited;
  • listen, be it to a person speaking, a brochure or book, listen to what is being said, rather than spending all your time thinking about how to respond to the first sentence or statement and then ignoring the next ten.

If you want to read more about this idea, you can do no better than start here: Rational vs Emotion.Brains vs Heart.  In terms of information on tools, there are so many, our own not to say the least!  It depends what you do. 

Thinking productively is both an easy, and at the same time a challenging way to make 2014 better.

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