Thinking Power Times Four

“Heart,” “Mind,” “Yes,” and “No.” If you can get your head into each of these modes, you can multiply your decision-making power by four in the new year. Let’s look at them one by one.

Funny hippie man holding a love heart and pointingHeart. Get into this mode by listening to your heart and your gut. Use your intuition. Bring out your feelings. What’s your immediate reaction? What’s your first impression? How do you feel about each option? Don’t try to explain or justify anything. Some people find this hard to do, thinking it’s irrational and flaky. For a long time, I prided myself in being totally rational and ignoring intuition. Lately, though, I’ve started to trust my gut. It’s even helped me be a better mathematician, if you can believe that. It turns out that all those instant gut reactions are not just random thoughts with no substance—they’re the expression of all your years of experience that you’ve internalized. Listen to them. For more on this, see Blink! by Malcolm Gladwell. This viewpoint also helps you prepare for the emotional responses of others. Have you ever had really good plans scuttled by someone else’s seemingly irrational reaction?

Businessman holding a laptopMind. Get into this mode by looking for factual data. Question everything. What do we know? How do we know it? What can we infer from that? What else do we need to find out to make a rational decision? Are we being swayed by irrational biases? How can we justify our decision? The “head” people will find this tedious and time-consuming, but it’s often the only way to sort out the complexities and do the trade-offs of a major decision. Humans are prone to a great many thinking errors, such as the sunk cost fallacy that I talked about a few blogs back. We also find it difficult to focus on more than a few things at a time, so a gathering of all the facts and an analysis of them is just about the only way to pull it all together. As a bonus, you get a rational justification for your decision that you can use to make your case.

Beautiful African American woman happy thumbs up isolated on whiYes. Get into this mode by looking for the positives. Start with a big smile and a thumbs-up. Look for opportunities and new ways of using what you have. Give yourself or your team a pep talk. What’s the best that can happen? What do we have available to us? What can we learn from our mistakes? How can we use this? How can we meet this need? You might think this is just empty cheerleading or the genial nodding of an unthinking yes-man, but this is an essential mindset for moving ahead, working through difficulties, comparing options, and seizing opportunities.

Young men expressing disgustNo. Get into this mode by looking for negatives and problems. Start with a scowl and a thumbs-down. Give the optimist a kick of reality. Get some grim realism into the discussion. What can go wrong? What are the problems? Why won’t it work? What’s the worst thing that could happen? You may be wondering why you would want this downer of a guy in your work group or in your head, talking smack and shooting down your ideas. Well, for one thing, he may be right. Better to anticipate the problems while you can still fix them. Better to know what might go wrong so you can have a work-around plan if it does. Much of decision-making is balancing what can go right against what can go wrong, so you need to understand the worst as well as the best. Finally, the “no” person acts as a devil’s advocate, asking the “yes” people to justify themselves.

You may find some of these modes more comfortable than others. Try them all on the next time you have a tough decision and see whether they help. If you’re working in a group, make sure all modes are represented. Value their contributions. That annoying guy who is shooting down every idea is giving a valuable “no” perspective. The nerd with the boring charts is giving you the “head” view. The hippie with no justification for various feelings is all “heart.” The cloyingly bubbly cheerleader is giving you the “yes” view. You need them all.

Have you ever tried taking on all these modes when making a decision, either alone or in a group? Was it hard? How did it affect the outcome?

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