Dr Jason Fox, How To Lead a Quest

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“We see only what we are ready to see … taught to see … and ignore everything that is not a part of our prejudices.”

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Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (1800’s)

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So. I think we all know people who have some fairly strong world views. They can be political ideologies, cultural views and even behavioral beliefs. Those world views tend to warp how they see things. Everything becomes a blue hue if they have a blue worldview. Or maybe they simply always find the ‘blue’ in everything they read & see and pluck it out as proof of some aspect of their worldview. It’s a subtle default. It is also a subtle (okay, sometimes not so subtle), bias. I am not suggesting it is always bad, but it is certainly a default mechanism which can skew how one sees the world. Now. What is bad is that it is a self-confirming loop. The default feeds upon itself constantly solidifying the view. I imagine over time that it becomes so solid it becomes difficult to defuse the default. Once again. If we think about people, we know we can identify them. Once again, if we all think about the people, we know we can also see they don’t see that same default mechanism in place. The looped way of seeing & thinking becomes a self-affirming logic. Sounds rational and unbiased. “I read contrary views to see the world through other’s eyes” they say (as they ignore the fact they are always wearing blue tinted glances as they squint at things they subtly disagree with).

Anyway.

What led me to think about this is I (finally) picked up my copy of “Open to Think” which Dan Pontefract was so generous to send me and, as good books do, it made me think about thinking. In particular it made me think about default thinking.

Now. I’ve worked with three of the foremost “how to think” methodology/ideology companies – P&G, Publicis & J. Walter Thompson. All crafted default thinking methodologies. From that point on they diverged in how to utilize the default thinking frameworks, e.g., ‘how to fill the framework.’

I could argue I have thought about how I think, what I think, how people think, what they think, attitudes, behaviorism construct, etc., more than is healthy for me. So. When I got to page 80 where Don states “creative thinking is the default cognitive mode we employ when our minds are clear” (Moshe Bar, 2016, Bar-In University) I chuckled. It’s true and it’s not. Creative thinking, in my mind, is when things clear (not are clear) – its kind of like the sky opening up into blue during a thunderstorm. Now. It is true that this is where default thinking crashes into creative, or any deep, thinking. Those of us who have actually been trained on how to think (using time tested methodologies) have this weird concoction of default/non default creative thinking. Our thinking slots into a methodology, or a combination of methodologies, as we sift thru what to heuristically not clear our mind on and what to clear our mind for. As I have said, and written, several times, I do not believe we are in any crisis relationship with time & distractions. We have always had more than enough stress on our time and always had distractions. Therefore, we have always had focus challenges. That said. There are certainly aspects of today’s world that amplifies potential distractions – perception wise (what social media shoves down our throats with regard to ‘measured time’ & realtywise (we do get constantly barraged with bits of information of which our ‘measured time’ mentality minimizes uses of the bits).

But. Our minds do like to work and ‘clearing it’ doesn’t mean not thinking, its mean clarity.

Its kind of like our inner productivity mental compass. However. What I would suggest is an industrial (Taylorism skewed) mentality through all institutions (schools, work, life) in combination with a fabric of societal thinking exacerbated by social media telling everyone how to be more productive, productivity of thinking has taken on some fairly absurd, and insidious, dimensions.

With social media/internet defining productivity at the expense of everything else, it has flipped the formula where productivity – or ‘doing’ – now trumps actual outcomes and how much you do becomes a more reasonable measurement of usefulness than what you actually do. In other words, it de-emphasizes impact to, well, measurements of measured time. Yes. This applies to thinking too.

So, unless you get lucky in that your thinking has a positive enough impact within a specific short term measured time you may never get judged on true impact (how thine thinking echoes thru eternity).

Moving on.

Don Pontefract, Open to Think

Default versus discovery, movement versus stillness, however you want to think about how you think, the truth is effectiveness, and satisfaction, does require some ‘stop & do.’ Constant learning, constant discovery, constant restless thinking sounds good (& even feels good), BUT we still desire (demand?) some proof or outcomes or its all seeming “moving for moving sake.” This is where default gets tricky. In order to satisfy our proof desire (in relation to our thinking) we may seek proof points thru default thinking. It does three things:

      • Supports our own thinking (cognitive personal ‘loops’ – confirmation of what we think we know) which is kind of a version of ‘imitation satisfies demand that already exists’.

      • Encourages progress (even if it may be misguided) along whatever path we are exploring

      • Efficiency: default is a heuristic mental trick to get us from “here to there” in terms of effective usage of our time (thinking & learning).

 

All that said.

Defaults can be good. Think of them as waystations on the Metro. They can assist in navigating liminal spaces. They can insure you efficiently board a train which effectively guides you in the right direction toward future possible destinations. Not to sound like a broken record, but defaults can help us navigate pragmatism & possibilities (link). Yeah. I continue to argue that everything, thinking included, revolves around managing & navigating, imagination & possibilities and pragmatism & doing. You may encourage your brain to pursue possibilities (convincing yourself you are open minded) but the pragmatism kicks in to drive thinking closer to what you currently believe. Yes. Navigating pragmatism & possibilities with your own brain can be a real sonuvabitch.

 Not only that but externally there are a bunch of people trying to ‘hack’ into your thinking process.. So when some fortune cookie wisdom peddler offers you a nifty meme thought or ‘listicle to success’ understand they are trying to implant a ‘default’ mechanism into YOUR brain. I am not suggesting that all of someone else’s default thinking is bad for you. But I am suggesting YOU should decide, clarify and recognize your own default mechanism before you bolt on anyone else’s. thinking, despite what some people may suggest, does not have some formula. However. It does have some principles – stepping stones to place your mental thoughts on.

** note: Dr. Jason Fox is particularly good at discussing the positives & negatives of defaults & heuristics. He asks: “What default practices exist in your organization that are no longer serving you well?” we should ask ourselves, as individuals, the same.

 

This is not as simple as we may think. We are constantly using phrases & images that sound deep and meaningful while completely missing the bigger point or using a soundbite or image to showcase the issue without delving into the true complexity of reality. When you take one-liners out of context, or make complex issues into little phrases it makes for a great sound bite, but often seriously misleads people.

Anyway.

I have always been fascinated by how people think. What always makes me scratch my head is why seemingly smart and intelligent people think, say and believe crazy things. Mostly I chalk it up to lazy thinking <hopefully not actually ‘not thinking’>.

Look. I know we all do this at least some of the time. Daniel Kahneman <“Thinking Fast and Slow”> points out that human brains are hard-wired to process and function in ways that are easy and fast. Uh oh. That means our brains are actually, most of the time, not really thinking <although in our own minds we all think we are constantly thinking>. For efficiency purposes our brains tend to process information in one of two ways.

– automatic response to input

– actual thinking

The difficult one is the latter — thinking can be difficult, tiring, vexing and time consuming, therefore, thinking ain’t easy. Therefore, our brains typically default to the fast automatic response mode. We do this unconsciously.

Ok. Then <you may ask> what happens when we do actually think?

On key issues it seems like our default beginning point is ‘motivation’ as in ‘what is in it for this person.’ Therefore, we are automatically thinking the worst and then forcing ourselves to actually consider the best scenario.

What a wacked way of thinking about things.

Its particularly wacked when you actually look at the research or deign to actually speak with people. We, people in general & the everyday schmucks, actually WANT to do the right thing more often than not.

And that is the evil of fortune cookie wisdom. It can actually double default – default real thinking and default real empathy (or pursuing a somewhat more difficult journey despite it being the right thing to do). This is all done under the guise of ‘reducing complexity’ when, in reality, we should be reducing complications and seeking true understanding of complexity.

Last thought. Festina lente. To me, it would be silly, and naïve, to preach patience or ‘clearing the mind’ in todays world for 99% of the people. Sure. Maybe on a selective basis it is a viable thought, but for most people its not only NOT relatable but not very pragmatic. Movement is simply a given in 99% of people’s lives in today’s world between personal “do’s”, commitments to business & others and the general onslaught of what Life demands. In fact. I would suggest survival can be a full-time job and stopping may mean threat of survival. Therefore. Festina Lenta. Slow down to speed up and find thinking velocity (which, I could argue, is thinking nirvana). Clear a space in your mind, don’t clear your mind, compartmentalize and make sure you slow down on some things without really taking your eye off of the other things that could kill you. It is an art, a practical art. Most of us think on the move amidst the natural distractions of Life. And this attitude means you get lost of practice (within the 30,000 decisions we make daily) and inevitably if you ram your way through some default thinking, keep an open mind enough, you actually get better at seeing things beyond simplistic defaults all the time.

Look. Our beliefs shape our thinking and our thinking creates our defaults. It’s kind of a looped relationship. So, to constantly shape our thinking, we should always be reshaping our beliefs. I will note that despite popular opinion, reshaping beliefs is actually fairly easy and happens all the time. They key? Constantly providing the mind (the thinking body) new nutrients to thrive. Think about more things beyond your defaults.

Anyway.

Circling back to the beginning.

Blue filter. Blue glasses. A group of Americans reading this immediately attached ‘liberal’ (Democrat) to how they read that. Another group of people attached ‘sad’ to their view. It was their default. Their bias. Their filter. Ponder that.

In the end. Not all default thinking is created equal. My default thought is ‘pragmatism & possibilities.’ Imagination spans the walls of thinking which means my type of thinking is not ‘outside the box’, but rather box expanding. To me possibilities without pragmatism will never gain traction, therefore, doesn’t really contribute to anything. I know my defaults, I know my bias, I know my thinking cage, but in my knowledge, and recognition, it lets me see some things beyond the basic defaults and fortune cookie wisdom and sometimes see beyond my normal sight. And isn’t that all we can ask of anyone when it comes to thinking?

 

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Reading:

 Don Pontefract: Open to Think

Dr. Jason Fox: How to Lead a Quest

 

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Written by Bruce