Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What It Really Means to Use Your Head

Continuing from our last post, why is using only half your brain the same as leaving money on the table?

Take Responsibility for Convictions Through Awareness

Emotional intelligence as a necessity for adults was a hot topic for a year or so. In fact even accountants have been known to argue that emotional intelligence makes one a better CPA (and in much the same vein as I do -- see the Journal of Accountancy).

Adults and Kids: Is the Height the Only Difference?

Remember what we do for small kids? First we ask them how they feel about something and then ask them to consider the implications from the feeling? By high school, the concept of feeling states is denied in favor of thinking states, as though one could exist without the other? When the hormonal issues rage enough to make even simpler questions difficult?

If culturally we believe emotional reactions are less valuable than intellectual ones, and if we believe that the latter exists without the former, in fact, feeling states become repressed.

We might go into automatic pilot. In any case, we forget that our belief systems are as much emotionally generated as intellectually and find ourselves rationalizing fear of the unknown as intellectually sound business practice. Back to David Firth's technologists.

The only way back to well reasoned decision-making is to acknowledge both what we feel and what we think -- and find the connections between them before acting when (or if) we don't know why.

And So?

Belief systems are complex. We don't come by them entirely intellectually, and it's important to know why things are important to us. Good business decisions -- in terms of technology, hiring, investing, and so on -- are dependent on an awareness of all the factors that go into each choice.

Back to Effective Thinking: Feeling States and Effective Decisions

For one thing, if sustainable curiosity is necessary for ongoing innovation, emotional awareness is essential for both. Curiosity is fed by understanding what turns us on, what drives us to find out more. It's a state fed by an inseparable combination of feelings and intellect.

In fact, awareness of one's own thought processes are essential for all the other disciplines that constitute effective thinking as well.

To discover insight, one must understand the relationship between observation and analysis.

Only by acknowledging personal investments can we see the multiplicity of possibilities. Only by seeing outside our own familiar contexts can we see things new.

And that's good for business.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Is Using Half One's Brain Enough?

Continuing from the last post, how can you increase your business IQ by getting to the heart of daily financial matters?

Emotional Reactions and Business Decisions

Business etiquette does not favor evidence of feeling. It's as though emotional reactions signify a lack of control -- and therefore cloud our ability to identify, consider, or present the truth. Those who seem inflamed with even a small amount of emotional energy become suspect, and their ideas are considered unreliable and biased.

What This Means for Innovation

The assumption here, of course, is that truth is singular and objectivity not only exists but can be demonstrated as such. If there happens to be more than one answer, each must have the capability to be quantified in very specific ways. Measurement is established in numerical terms, and these numbers can be translated directly into financial currency.

This way of thinking, considered THE bottom line and unquestionably objective. Sticking to one way of thinking reduces variables, and although it might offer more control over results, it also consequently reduces the possibility of new ideas.

What would happen if we remembered to be curious?

Auditing the Results of Emotional Intelligence

The insistence on disconnecting feeling from thought ultimately will not serve innovation. In fact, it's not even possible. After all, what is inspiration but the meeting point of emotional and intellectual insight?

An Example

Remember David Firth's technologists who felt that narrowing their focus would be good for innovation? The ones who circled the wagons to keep out those with problem-solving strategies different from theirs?

Clearly, this is not a decision based on clear thinking about developing new ideas. Instead, it's an emotional reaction dressed as a rational decision. The real issue here is not generating new ideas but preserving a comfort level at work.

In this case, recognizing the relationship between ideas and feelings would have benefited the project. It takes courage to broaden one's focus to answers never before considered, but it's the only way something new will happen.

It certainly won't if you don't.

Back to Basics: Learning Can Be Scary (Especially for Grown-Ups)

Integrating anything new -- creating connections between the unfamiliar and what we already know -- can be scary. With the unknown, we have no control over what we understand, any idea about how we feel, or any knowledge about what can do about it or our position in its presence.

As we've been discussing, learning is disorganizing. We have to give up tight control on the universe with which we are comfortably familiar -- and our feelings about the world and items within it -- in order to acknowledge the value of something outside it.

The next post gets to the core of how this connects to business decisions, so stay tuned.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Brief Look At Convictions

After skipping over the point in the last post, it seems a good time to take up the question: Where do convictions come from? And what does this have to do with business?

What Adults Know About Kids

When children are small, they usually learn what they think by being asked how they feel.

For example, you wouldn't ask a toddler for an opinion on what constitutes a satisfying meal. Instead, you'd ask if she likes tuna peanut butter, or something else. From what a toddler feels, then, an adult infers what she thinks -- in this case, what she thinks would make a good lunch.

Why Do Adults Forget? What Happens Next.

By the time kids get to high school, they are certainly capable of a kind of abstract reasoning that smaller children are not. However, to as large an extent, it's clear that their feelings still direct their behavior and choices.

Spoken to any adolescents lately?

However, at the same time that they are discovering their own points of view -- primarily through emotionally reacting to the world as well as their hormones--they are being asked to deny the force of their feelings in a way that no adult would ever ask a small child. However, it would be absurd to assert that emergence of abstract reasoning replaces emotional reactions. Culturally, however, we feel evidence of emotion makes decisions suspect.

Part of this dismissal is social and is caused by attitudes about both emotional outbursts and taking children's viewpoints seriously. The implications for adults can be dire after years of repressing what they feel in order to please.

And now we're back to the idea that there is one answer. In this case, we are not credible unless that one that comes directly from the intellect (as if that were possible). Bad for innovation once again.

We'll skip the details of this for now -- it's too big a project for one blog post although quite closely related to other topics from past discussions.

Smaller Issues: What Will a Toddler Find In School As She Grows?

By the time kids get to high school, the curriculum has replaced the question "how do you feel?" with "what do you think about" a event, person, or object. More often than not, personal essays are entirely abandoned in favor of an analytic style of communication. The feelings of an "I" are squeezed through what we isolate as "thoughts" from a supposedly objective third-person.

Why Does This Happen?

In our academic (and business) culture, third-person narrative is thought to be more sophisticated, more credible and therefore truer than speaking from a feeling state. The assumption here is that the most valuable cognition is entirely devoid of emotional impulse.

Some Historical Background

It's important to remember that emotional detachment for effective thinking is merely a trend and has not always been required for understanding and articulating truth.

In fact, if you go back to the nineteenth-century romantics (results of the preceeding sentimentalism), what it means to know is a concept that's been under discussion for more than a century. In fact, the fact that 21st Century-people come down on the side of reason does not necessarily constitute progress. It's an argument that goes back in Western culture at least as far as Plato and Aristotle. So it's worth considering alternative ways of finding the best way forward.

What This Might Mean About Us

There is a sense in our culture -- certainly in business -- that control is what we're aiming for. We value most what we measure, and we calculate in rather unimaginative ways. Of course, this goes against probably the core of good business -- risk is necessary for reward.

Our brains tell us one thing, and our emotional reactions send us running too often in the other direction.

More on what this has to do with business in the next post.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Continuing Case Study: Take a Good Look

Summary: For Those With No Time For Previous Posts

I held a workshop where students were asked to describe the body language of those listening to their pitches.

Instead of reporting observations about the things they saw, they drew conclusions about their meaning. After years of working in familiar work environments, participants navigated by assumption about what they saw in front of them.

Rather than considering what was possible in the moment they gave their pitch, they narrowed the options to what had happened before.

What Does This Mean for Innovation?

Taken to a logical conclusion, the implications are rather dangerous.

1. As discussed, at best assumptions about outcome will prevent new results. At worst, they lead to misunderstandings that can sink a deal.

2. Without an awareness of the reasons that one thinks as one does, how can anyone take responsibility for his or her strongest convictions? More to the point, how can one know why one acts as one does when operating in automatic pilot?

Smaller Issues First

Clearly, the latter point of the two is more complex than the first. For the sake of keeping this post brief, let's stick to the smallest sort of scenario and build outward in later discussions.

So -- how do we solve this problem of assuming we know the answer when faced with business situations that seem familiar?

The First Step: Stay Awake

Innovation depends on noticing what's happening now. If you want to expand your sphere of commercial influence, learn to identify meaning in unfamiliar situations. The first step is to identify the conventions in every new context -- and sometimes across contexts. Watch closely and listen until you have enough information.

Second Know the Differences: Training vs. Learning

To a certain extent, the results represent the difference between training and learning. After Step 1, make sure that no matter how much of the former you provide employees; make sure you're also encouraging the latter.

Don't Knock Training

On the one hand, the value of training is not to be underestimated. It offers skills to address particular, circumscribed challenges in short order.

Training usually takes place in a classroom -- outside the context in which the skills will be used. Therefore, it can be quickly completed than learning because many variables are excluded from the mix. The curriculum is isolated from any complications not connected to the skills in question. With this limited scope, training need only happen once to be effective, or over a short period. Training can then be revisited only for advanced or updated direction.

Above all, training runs employees through drills for a limited series of processes and emphasizes an answer. It saves time if you are presented repeatedly with exactly the same data in only one or two contexts.

How Learning Differs

Learning, on the other hand, is a long-term investment. The process demands that one thinks about questions in terms of their broadest as well as their shortest-term implications. Learning requires that students pay attention to the relationships among issues outside the classroom and those discussed inside.

What Else?

Learning requires conversation and feedback over time, as new variables appear, and each insight should raise more questions about other issues that are clearly connected - - or could be.

In other words, this process emphasizes strategies for independent learning, the ability to identify meaning, and with this meaning, to make new connections. The idea is to generate the habit of doing this without a teacher, across contexts, and among new variables.

More on these issues – and how they mesh with other disciplines for effective thinking -- in the next post.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Case Study Continued: Observation vs. Analysis 3

What's Necessary for Persuasion?

Following from the last post, where do employees come from?

When Last We Saw our Heroes . . .

We left my students struggling to make presentations and lacking convincing body language.

This might seem like a small point. But if you've ever been forced to sit through very bad acting, you'll understand why without appropriate, natural gestures your client will be thinking more about how bad the performance is than about what is being said.

Clearly, in a business pitch, this would be ruinous. So what's to be done with those for whom such things don't come naturally?

Why Is It So Hard to Persuade?

Words come easily when memorized. However, the reaction they create -- and the subsequent relationship that develops -- can not really be anticipated. Never bank on a client response or you'll be cornered by surprises.

Sales Are Not As Difficult As Relationships: But One Often Relies on the Other

Relationships must be played out in the moment for genuine engagement. First and foremost, this sort of interaction requires observation before analysis.

In other words, examine who's in front of you before deciding how to approach them.

Or, in effect, before you can decide on a strategy, you have to be able to really listen to your client's needs.

If this sounds obvious, why doesn't it happen more often?

Back to the Case Study: An Experiment

After an hour of watching stock moves, I asked students to describe the body language of the class members serving as the audience. The goal was to observe the way they were sitting, the angles at which they held their heads, the expressions on their faces.

The only thing not allowed: to draw conclusions. Instead, I wanted them to articulate aloud the nuances of a listener's pose in such detail that the rest of us could repeat it.

What The Students Offered

Despite the directions, no one described what he or she saw. Over the course of an hour, each seemed determined to draw conclusions without articulating the material used for evidence.

Like my students at Brown in drama and English -- or kindergarteners I've taught as well -- the participants in this workshop on pitching couldn't tell me where their conclusions came from.

More important for a business audience, like some executives we've seen, it was as though these employees-to-be had confused data with analysis.

In other words, these students assumed that there is a transparent relationship between what they see and what it means. They skipped the analysis entirely. The conclusion was pulled from experience in past encounters which might or might not have been accurate in the first place.

Kids and Grown-Ups: Different Roots But Same Results

We forgive kindergarteners for their inability to articulate why they think what they do -- after all, they are so new at considering the world around them. It seems that those who have been around a lot longer either were not taught or forgot how they process information that eventually leads to ways of thinking.

Why Does This Happen?

The participants in my workshhop had trained themselves to read gestures by taking the meaning for granted as if they had seen them before.

At best, assumptions about outcome will make it impossible to develop new results. At worst, assumptions lead to misunderstandings that will blow a deal completely.

Case Study: One Conclusion

Because our business contexts are usually similar to each other -- most of us don't do business outside familiar territory -- we assume gestures represent the same meaning across contexts. In-depth observation is usually passed over in favor of a quick read. We presume efficiency is the same as effectiveness.

In short, we stop thinking. Instead, we behave as though the present situation is the same as those we've seen before. Under these conditions, how can one ever break into new markets or develop new products?

Next post, see more on these questions, issues, and events.