The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese … Food For Thought?

Food For Thought indeed. And yes, the pun is intended!

One thing that separates top leaders and entrepreneurs from the herd is the ability to see things that others can’t. Avoid the strategies that just don’t work, see the bigger picture, and find new solutions. Unlike the first mouse.

Last week I ran a session for entrepreneurs and business mentors at Metta, aimed at helping them recognise blind spots. Once seen and recognised we can develop real skills and habits in thinking differently. Next week I’m going to follow up with a session on provoking new ideas and thinking, but for now let’s focus on those blind spots.

Here’s one of my favourite challenges. It looks simple but be aware – it’s not! Have a look at the pictures here, grab a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors (you don’t need tape, glue or anything else) and knock yourself out trying to re-create just the purple part of the image. That little ‘chimney’ at the top is tricky. Disclosure: The pics show both sides of the structure, and I made this with one single sheet of A4 card and one pair of scissors. The yellow sheet is not relevant, it’s just a place holder. That’s all.

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This is one of the problems I use to illustrate four ways that we develop blind spots and fail to see solutions that are available to us.

  1. Consistency. We value consistency and it certainly has its uses! But it also narrows our thinking by causing us to see things in only one way – the way that seemed to work for us in the past – and because we tend to use one single thinking language. What I mean by that is that if I’m a highly trained engineer I’ll see things my way, not in the same way that an HR director, or an accountant, or a three year old would see things. Is the problem expressed in words, numbers, pictures? How would we explain it to that three year old? One example – here’s a possible headline: “Woman Throws Herself Through 15th Storey Window and Lives!”. Can you see at least two ways to look at this?
  2. Commitment. Something else we value! We get committed to patterns of thinking, which actually get wired into our brains. Stereotyping is a classic example. Once we perceive something as ‘true’, our tendency is to look for evidence to support that belief and in doing so we ignore other facts that support a different truth. For example, have you ever known someone who was taught early on that they were stupid? I know several people who are affected by dyslexia, for instance, who were treated like this but are in fact very bright and intelligent people. It took a long time for them to believe this themselves, as they were committed to the notion that they were not. Mentors and coaches: please take note. What worked for us in the past won’t necessarily be what gets our clients to where they want to get in the future.
  3. Compression. Sometimes we’re overloaded with information – sadly more and more in this social media age – and sometimes we don’t know enough to be able to solve a problem, it’s in fact too compressed. So managing and organising the flow of information, categorising, avoiding multi-tasking and focusing totally on the right thing are essential. I had fun with the group on this one, asking a question in a way that nobody could even remember their own name …
  4. Complacency. Perhaps the biggest sin on my list – we are biased against thinking. Seriously. Have you ever passed by someone gazing out of the window when they should have been working, and thought it was high time they got on with something productive? Yet thinking and solving problems is perhaps the best way professionals can add value. And if our staff keep asking us why we do things in a particular way, do we regard that as helpful – or as undermining? It’s time to rediscover our natural curiosity and our willingness to challenge the way things are. We had these skills when we were 5 years old, so why not now?

Still stuck with the problem I set at the start? Hmm. I don’t want to solve it for you. It’s a great example of consistency, seeing things in only one way.

How about this – after you reach a point of total frustration,  imagine picking the structure up and flipping it over, looking at it flat or upside down. That might help. Or come to one of my workshops!

@metta, @hughtodd


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