The Thinking Challenge: Trapped Inside with Only a Keyhole View to the World – Part 2

Published on : 21 Aug 2013
4 min read
Category : Leadership

In part 1, I had proposed that we are caught in a few thinking traps and fail to comprehend that we have at least 2 views to our world.

Analytical thinking is dealing with the world as it is: Comprehending reality.

Conceptual thinking is the world as it can be : Visualising the world with its myriad connects; both the apparent and the hazy.

In this part, I want to counterpose the consequences of overly being in the analytical mode and ignoring the conceptual faculty of our thinking (Click to tweet). Let us tease this proposition a little bit further and see what we come up with.

Obsession with the correct answer – The Winner’s way trap:

The computational power that has been made available to us, should have freed us from the drudgery of processing and ordering numbers into charts for meaning making. Large part of the meeting time is wasted in understanding these number arrangements. We facetiously call it trends and strategy. In many meetings disputing the numbers or its arrangement is an interesting game. So arriving at a shared reality (as things are) becomes the main objective in these meetings.

Assuming that the shared reality indeed is coalesced, now the priority shifts to our old high school obsession: So what is the correct answer? Thus we get into the math class: Finding the only correct way to solve the problem – The Answer.

How do we go about this? In the same way as our math teacher taught us. Look for the solved answers from a guide book or the senior’s work book. In the business world we call it the best practice or learning from the industry leader. The new guide books are sold by the top notch business tuition teachers: Consulting firms or the best practice publications which are available on sale.

This does not end here. At our school, we were told that copying is being dull witted or that only monkeys imitate. In business we are told that copying competition is smart. My argument is not that we should be oblivious to what competition is up to. It is more about, if I spot the same opportunity, threat and the means to deal with them, how can it create a competitive advantage? Unless, I out-execute this copied version, can I ever become the leader? Even if I do so, should I now not identify the different/new opportunities to be leveraged for holding the leadership?

Inability to integrate and synthesise – The one view and the only way trap:

Our ability to use data to generate discussion, which is thought exploration, is severely stunted. This is because seldom in a meeting, we distil and frame issues for discussion. We push for convergence too soon. We are worried that if we keep a discussion going, it might take us to where we do not want to go. We want all those assembled to confirm our thoughts and not challenge them. Any challenge, even worse any alternate proposition causes us serious distress. We see it as negation of us, disruption or dissent: A waste of time.

We struggle to tease out alternatives or different perspectives on the theme of discussion. I suppose it is because multiple perspectives will demand of us, the higher order thinking ability of integrating and synthesising what appears to be disparate ideas. This will require the ability to create new frameworks: Much like discovering in the destructive power of the atom the curing characteristic or for that matter discovering strength in carbon fibre or that metal can float and even fly. All these thoughts would have been absurd propositions when they were first made.

We often frame most issues in a bipolar way. Like religious leaders and political ideologues, the frame is: Good vs the Bad, Freedom vs Discipline, Broad vs Narrow focus, Short term vs Long term, Quality vs Quantity and many more.

We feel uncomfortable to deal with the world of perspectives. The renaissance masters rediscovered this in both thought and art. They freed the world from the dogma of religious bipolarity or the only truth as ordained by the supreme power.

Science embellished it during the last 4 centuries by demonstrating the power of abstract thought to create concrete use. The scientist showed us what synthesis between thoughts can achieve. The power of the atom was discovered by synthesising, Physics, Chemistry and Math. Our ability to nuance a thought, co-hold and forge a hybrid outcome, is often severely challenged by our pull to over-simplify or complicate most themes.

Two tables or charts never integrate or synthesise. It is solely the power of the human conceptualisation which does it. Even when the computer does it, it is always the integrative algorithm as conceptualised by the human thinking which makes it possible.

The Oxymoron of visualising only that which has proof!

While business is about leveraging risk, by finding frameworks which competition has not discovered, we all are averse to the risk of thinking beyond the already proven or the concrete known. Interestingly science and technology is all about leveraging the power of conceptualisation and then harnessing it with testing. Radar changed the course of World War II: It made the invisible visible. Steve Jobs connected intuition to electronics. James Watt found motive force in steam – Gas.

However in business when engaging with the market we inverse this combination: We want to discover the opportunity which is certain: Where data and not thought and visualisation takes us. We fail to realise that exploration always precedes testing or proof seeking and not the other way around. God is the only concept we are prepared to engage without a prior proof.

This affects our approach to decisions. Gillian Stamp, a thought leader from BIOSS, found that the ability to “Make” and not “Take” decisions separated higher order thinking and hence leadership ability. She categorised data hungry and data completeness oriented people as those who “Take” decisions. On the other hand she found entrepreneurial and trend defining leaders, first visualising a possibility and then putting just about enough data to broadly confirm the concept and committed resources ahead of others. She categorised these leaders as those who “Make decisions”. She found them to be change & scale hungry people and not certainty obsessed.

Ideation always precedes proof seeking. Ideation deals with abstraction. In the absence of a search for alternatives, choices and the unproven concepts, ideas will not materialise or will not be meaningful. True the signals are in the environment, but it is in a form which is not amenable to distilling data and arranging it as analytics will require. This is like an architect who first conceptualises the building and there after goes about doing all the calculations and tests.

The real germ of thought indeed is an imagination: an idea, a concept, a possibility. When analysis leads to insights and triggers conceptualisation of a possibility, then we enter the higher order thinking ability. Analysis sharpens the understanding of the already known. Conceptualisation reveals to us what is hidden behind the unknown and the undiscovered.

In Conclusion:

So in my book, those who get stuck with tables, charts and data arrangements, which leads to only analytical thinking and struggle to conceptualise or ideate are thinking challenged. The reasons could be anything from the absurd: attention deficiency, to the sublime: inability to take a thought risk. Only in the Orwellian world thinking and imagining is a crime.

God, we are told created the humans from dust. The human brain created the memory chip from grains of sand, in order to free itself from the drudgery of holding and processing data. If we still do not put the freed up brain to visualise the world as it can be, why even should be and shape it, surely our brain and hence thinking will atrophy.

P.S. Even hardware requires software updates periodically. I see most of us reading challenged. So where will our next operating and application software updates come from, if we struggle to hold attention to read 1000 words. Reading challenged becomes thinking challenged. Try writing 1200 words about any theme without charts and numbers to check your thinking robustness.


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