April 3, 2006
Liz published this at 11:06 am
Just this morning, a friend shot me an email. It asked whether I had time to write up a quick press release. I replied that I probably could and asked the three questions I do to size the time it will take to get the job done.
- What is it for?
- When do you need it?
- Do you have a model for what you want?
I got a response from my friend that was an apology. Apparently my last question reminded him of the press release he had from last year for the same event. He could just brush that off, rewrite it, and use it again.
His habit was to start from scratch on everything. My questions had pushed his thinking.
Flexing Your Thoughts
When I look over the original article for this series, The 10 Skills Most Critical to Your Future, I keep coming back to the idea that mental flexibility might be the one skill that has the most initial impact. This is the crowd pleaser–the hero. Mental flexiblity unbends the bent, unties the knot, and unsticks the stuck. People notice that kind of thing right away.
If you can do that and they cannot, they think you’re really something.
Like it’s name implies, mental flexibility is a matter of being in shape. Flexing your mental abilities isn’t that different than flexing your muscles. Warm up and try them out one at a time. Know your limits and know your goal is to broaden your scope. These are some ways to stretch your mind, to make your thinking more flexible.
1. Listen to people that you disagree with. Take in their arguments and follow their logic. Try it on for size. Work to see things entirely from their point of view.
2. Look in opposing arguments for the places where you are in agreement. No two arguments are totally opposite. Find the core of the matter where the arguments are the same.
3. Try to put two opposing ideas into one picture and make them work together. This works more often than you might think it would. Get to the core of each argument, keep each primary goal in tact, and then look for a way to make a new whole.
4. Stay in the 30,000 foot view. Don’t get caught in sematics or in details. Words aren’t your friend when you’re looking for flexibility. Words tie things down in a precise detailed fashion. Words can also confuse rather than add clarity–for example, your shade of blue might be more green than mine. If you use many words for the same thing . . . So the blue, azure, sapphire, teal, sky-colored logo would sit here . . ., then you can keep the thinking big picture and flexible.
5. Give weird ideas their voice. Runners push past the wall. So do flexible thinkers. Let other folks have a chance to share their kookie plans. Try them out. You might decide that you like one a lot.
6. Make a new habit of questioning yourself. Why am I doing this? Is there another approach? Is this my own thinking or a habit I’m used to? Does this situation call for action at all? The hardest part is remembering to question yourself. Doing it is actually fun. Once you get in the habit, you’ll not only gain flexibility. Your productivity will also go up.
7. Evaluate every argument. Don’t take anything on face value. People pass opinion as fact frequently, in the media and in person. Many folks just accept such information and repeat it as true–as if they are still in school. Flexible thinkers do not. When someone quotes statistics to you, be prepared to say, “You’re making that up.”
8. Use your entire brain, not just the logical left. Test things out with your perception and your intuition, as well. Don’t leave any information source on the table. Use everyone else’s brains too. Stretching your flexibility means stretching in every direction. There’s a world of new information waiting to be put together.
9. Find the humor and laugh some. There is something funny about almost everything, if you open yourself up to it. Give yourself room to laugh, and you might find other ideas come easier too.
10. Rewrite reality and have a few fantasies. Take that habit of Stephen Covey’s “Change your Paradigm” totally outside of the box. Don’t just make a slightly newer reality–blow your ideas out of the water. Imagine the problem as a dating situation, how would you deal with it then? Suppose it were happening on an alien world . . . and your kids were in charge?
Push your thinking in every direction you can. It doesn’t hurt, and the investment pays off in your ability to think in places where other folks can’t.
Every Company Needs You
Think of your mind as a room filled with drawers and doors, each of which leads to piles and stacks of information that you can access and use. Mental flexibility solves problems when other folks can’t because it allows you to open those drawers and doors to find answers to questions. Most folks don’t have any practice at doing that.
That’s why flexible thinkers get noticed so quickly. They give answers that aren’t the usual ones, and the answers they give are answers that work.
Imagine the impact on your personal brand when folks start seeing you as someone who always asks the right question, gets to the core of things, and fits ideas together. In other words, you have added flexible thinking as a big idea to your personal brand, a core competency of your skill set. It’s one more way to bring the uniquely Brand YOU to the business table.
Flexible thinking is a skill every company needs desperately. Companies can’t problem solve, innovate, or grow organically without it. Why not be the one who shows them does it for them?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Special thanks to: Mental Flexibility for motivating me when I was tired.