Friday, December 30, 2016

How to Acknowledge Reality

Staying grounded in reality is not easy these days. We are bombarded with so much noise, misinformation and flashing news alerts. It’s easy to get distracted from what is truly important. Getting grounded in reality requires a very sound principle known as Critical Thinking. If more people would simply think in a critical way, they would break through the clutter and see the truth.

It all starts with listening to various viewpoints and asking questions. A good framework for asking questions is to cover the W’s and the How: Who, When, Where, Why and How. Your goal is to aggressively dissect the issue from various sources and through a series of questions you filter out what is false and retain what is true.  Take for example a small child who is always asking questions about how things work – they have a natural curiosity of seeking the truth. Decisions are deferred until you compile enough evidence to reach an objective and rational conclusion. The challenge is to remove your prejudice feelings and just like a child, remain open-minded, finding your way to the answer.

In order to reach a sound conclusion, you will have to apply reasoning. This typically takes two forms:
Deductive Reasoning (top down) and Inductive Reasoning (bottom up). Deductive reasoning is when you arrive at an answer and you decide to apply it. For example, you have concluded that nasal spray is a better way of treating your allergies as opposed to taking pills. When you get an allergy you try it and see if your deductive reasoning is correct. Inductive reasoning is the opposite – you are not sure why the problem is taking place and you try to identify the reasons. Perhaps you develop a list of things that could be causing your allergies. One by one you test and work through the list until you find the items that are causing the problem.

Reasoning is not easy. There are so many ways of getting derailed. Here are 18 areas to watch out for per The Thinker’s Guide to the Art of Strategic Thinking by Linda Elder and Richard Paul:

1.            Jumping to conclusions
2.            Failing to think about the implications of your decision
3.            Not staying focused on the goal or objective, wandering off
4.            Not grounded in the reality of your current situation, too idealistic
5.            Not recognizing contradictions or evidence that says the opposite
6.            Asking vague questions or giving vague answers to questions – If you don’t know, just say so
7.            Reliance on information that is incomplete, inaccurate or not relevant
8.            Inferring something about the situation from your own experiences, but it doesn’t fit this particular situation
9.            Distorting information or evidence to advance an agenda
10.          Not recognizing your assumptions
11.          Spending too much time on things that are minor or insignificant to the decision
12.          Not aware of your own bias or short comings
13.          Unable to communicate effectively
14.          Improper use of words
15.          Key ideas were not recognized
16.          So called experts are not qualified or really experienced with the subject
17.          Over simplifying what is essentially very complicated
18.          Forming concepts that are too theoretical and not practical enough

If we leverage this list and distill it down, then it becomes important to follow a set of principles. These principles include:  

1.            Clarity – Remove the ambiguity to put focus on the problem. You can better understand a problem by comparing it to similar problems or re-phrasing the problem. 
2.            Accuracy – Don’t accept what someone tells you. Make sure it is true or false before accepting it. You want your decision to be based on accurate evidence. In some cases, you may have to validate it.
3.            Precision – It can help to be precise with statements. For example, by quantifying a statement you bring increased precision to what you are saying. For example, it is accurate to say: All human beings have a limited life span. It is more precise to say: Human beings have an average life span of 69 years. By providing more details, you become more precise. 
4.            Consistency – When you take a position, it should not be in conflict with known facts. Your decision should be consistent with the evidence that supports the decision. For example, Politicians are often criticized for making statements to one group and then changing the statement to fit another group. You need to be consistent in what it is you say or decide. 
5.            Relevance – You should focus on those things that are relevant to the decision. It is not unusual to spend excessive time on noise and other information that has nothing to do with your problem or issue. There should be a connection or relationship with the information that is under consideration regarding a decision. You also may have to consider the significance of the evidence to your problem. Some variables or factors are much more important than others.  
6.            Sound Evidence – Critical thinkers look for good evidence and ask: Why should I accept this? Examples of evidence include: Samples, Observations, Testimonials, Comparisons, Research, Experiences, Subject Matter Experts and Expert Witnesses.
7.            Good Reasoning – When you make a decision or take a position, you should have good reasoning behind the decision or position. Your thinking has support behind it based on observations and factual evidence.
8.            Depth – Your viewpoint, position or decision should speak to the problem or issue. It must be deep enough to explain it or possibly solve it. You sometimes may fall short of not going far enough. Perhaps your analysis was cursory and incomplete. You have to speak to the issue and not avoid it.
9.            Breadth – Critical thinkers consider various viewpoints. They seek to remove bias by considering other opinions. A wide net is cast in how a problem is viewed – we enlisted Engineers, Artist, Women, and others to uncover different perspectives.  
10.          Fairness – It is important to be fair to all sides. For example, if you spend all of your time listening to liberal viewpoints without listening to conservative viewpoints, then you are not being fair. You cannot let your own personal feelings or viewpoints cloud your decision. 

Finally, as you gain more experience and knowledge across a wide range of situations, you can start to act on intuition. This is the advanced level of decision making whereby you have mastered the principles described in this article. This requires a lot of experience with decision making across a wide range of situations. Two books that can help give you insights behind intuition are: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and The Go Point: When It’s Time to Decide by Michael Useem.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

To Understand Leadership, Understand Followers

People want to be led and not controlled. Anyone involved in managing people should be a leader. This is what your people are looking for. You can start by communicating the direction for others to follow with an emphasis on delegating and supporting their efforts.  You want people to be motivated and productive, reaching their full potential in the work place. This requires staying out of the way and not being a micro-manager, but still holding people accountable for performance.