What Might You Be Missing? - THINKERS Notebook

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What Might You Be Missing?

I got smacked upside the head with a good reminder from a colleague this week.

No, this colleague didn't really smack me upside the head ... but it did kind of feel like it when our call was done.

Without wasting a whole bunch of digital ink trying to explain the backstory, let me just sum it up like this:

I had worked myself up into a good mental lather about a strategy I was planning to propose on a group call.

I'd thought about it some. I'd even talked it through with someone. 

My confidence and enthusiasm were through the roof!

But then I got on the call.

And as soon as I started getting questions that didn't fit into my neat and tidy set of narratives and assumptions, I crumbled like a piece of used aluminum foil.

It turned out several of my assumptions were wrong. My proposed strategy had very little merit.

Oh sure, in a "perfect world scenario" it would have been great. But this was a real-world call for a real-world business, and I wasn't armed with a real-world solution.

So I crashed and burned.

And I felt a little shaken after the call. What had gone so wrong?

I realized that I should have put my ideas through the intense scrutiny they got on the call before I got on the call. 

Instead, I had been a lazy, arrogant thinker.

I had come up with a few ideas that sounded good, and I assumed they would work. So I didn't spend the necessary time trying to poke holes in them.

  • What assumptions might be wrong?
  • What roadblocks might I be missing?
  • What questions was I not asking?

I didn't do any of that, and I paid for it.

So did the other people on the call, who had their time wasted by a suggestion that was DOA.

What I needed to do myself was to fill the role my clear-thinking colleague filled, but prior to our assemblage on Zoom.

I needed to be my own devil's advocate. 

And so I share this embarrassing story with you to serve as, I hope, a useful reminder.

  • We all have blind spots in our thinking.
  • We all make erroneous assumptions.
  • We all can fall prey to our enthusiasm running unchecked.
  • We all have cognitive biases -- some that we're aware of and can avoid, but still others that we cannot. 

So we need to make sure that we're giving our ideas the challenges they need to either sink or swim on their own merit.

And preferably the initial wave of those challenges will be internal. 

Be your own devil's advocate. Challenge your ideas and assumptions, especially the ones that excite you -- because that is when we are most prone to ignoring or forgetting our blind spots.

Doing so will help you be much more prepared to advance the ideas that actually have merit while properly burying the ones that do not.

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, a random assortment of provoking articles I found this week. 

'Groupthink' may not be good, but thinking in a group sure can be.

"One last resource for augmenting our minds can be found in other people’s minds. We are fundamentally social creatures, oriented toward thinking with others. Problems arise when we do our thinking alone — for example, the well-documented phenomenon of confirmation bias, which leads us to preferentially attend to information that supports the beliefs we already hold."

Read: How to Think Outside Your Brain (Annie Murphy Paul)

Status may explain a lot of the subconscious beliefs that drive our behaviors.

"Humans have only domesticated a tiny fraction of animal species, even smart primates. In fact, apes seem plenty smart and dexterous enough to support a real Planet of the Apes scenario, wherein apes do many useful jobs. The main problem is that apes see our giving them orders as an attempt to dominate them, which they sometimes fiercely resist.

"And humans are if anything more sensitive to domination than are other primates. After all, while other primates had visible accepted dominance hierarchies, human foragers created “reverse dominance hierarchies” wherein the whole band (of ~20-50) coordinated to take down anyone who would try to dominate them. Which both makes it plausible that dominance matters a lot to humans, and also raises the question of how it is that we’ve come to accept so much domination."

Read: Status Explains Lots (Overcoming Bias)

Framing is everything.

"The way we look at the world is called our “framing” of the world. The lens through which we see our lives. Our view of things.

"There is no “right” lens or framing, nothing that we “should” choose. In fact, “right” and “should” are two common framings of the world. There are simply different lenses, different ways to frame anything. And if we bring awareness to the frame, we can choose."

Read: Create a Powerful Framing for the World (Zen Habits)

Quote of the week

"No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking."  

-- Voltaire