Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What's In the Box?: Mixing It Up with the NYPD

Cross Disciplinary Thinking

If The Box's square footage is defined by ideas that your people take for granted , place your Box next to the contents of someone else's.

Our brains make patterns automatically. When we provide it with data points usually seen in different contexts, new and useful connections emerge.

Cross-disciplinary thinking defamiliarizes ideas that we otherwise consider commonplace and can make us aware of assumptions we otherwise ignore. This awareness, in turn, can lead to new insights and innovative problem solving.

Not to mention very effective business cases.

Here's what I was told by James Shanahan, a retired New York City cop:

JS: I have a martial arts background, and I teach a technique called Verbal Judo .

Law enforcement is usually thought of as aggressive. A martial arts perspective, on the other hand, wants to prevent conflict. . . .

AK: How is Verbal Judo different from other training?

JS: The purpose of Verbal Judo is to "generate voluntary compliance." In plain language, it means getting people to do what you need them to do while allowing them to think it was their idea.

AK: So you're teaching cops to create a business case to resolve conflict?

JS: Exactly.

AK: Why Verbal Judo?

JS: You don't think of talking as a kind of Judo. So I the name gets the attention of my cops but in language they would accept. Obviously, martial arts make sense to people going out to risk their lives every day.

Verbal Judo sits at the meeting point of Eastern and Western philosophies. The combination creates a new approach for old conflicts that might otherwise seem unsolvable.

AK: What problem are you trying to address?

JS: A lot of cops need to remember that the first reaction to a challenging situation doesn't necessarily have to be reflex. They learn from their experience, sure, but they also have to learn to really notice what's going on -- here and now. The individuals they confront are people, just like them.

(Interrupts himself)

You have to understand, these law enforcement students of mine have had lots of time on the job. You get attacked, it's going to influence you the next time.

AK: How does Verbal Judo work?

JS: I don't ask the cops to forget what they know about dangerous situations. Instead, I say, "Just don't GO IN expecting the same thing to happen again." I try to help them to remember to really look at the next situation as NEW.

That can be challenging because all of a sudden a cop can be in the middle of something out of nowhere. So they need to look around and see what they're dealing with NOW. Assess the situation, and try not to jump to conclusions.

If it's possible, I remind them to start talking -- starting a conversation usually works better than shouting. They know it, but most cops start get worn down by experience. In a way, it's all about empathy.

AK: How do your students respond?

JS: They like my class because I understand where they're coming from and am really trying to help. They work hard. But it's a challenge. People who have been in the field for a long time tend to jump to conclusions because it can ultimately be safer for them than trying alternatives.

This means that the cops have to be ready to change tactics at the same time they verbally engage without assuming the worst. On the other hand, they have to get tough if they see that they're in real danger.

It's a tough job. No way around it.

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