Loving the Idea of a Creative Idea, but. . .

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Everyone loves the idea with a creative idea. But, there is a big but, this is not the same as embracing an idea. Or testing the idea, or even considering the interesting and positive aspects with the idea. Probably the biggest obstacle to innovative initiatives is a negative response. Or lack of response. The dreaded endless silence after you have put forward a suggestion.

Many ideas are easy to test such as the idea about walking meetings from Funny or Die. A creative idea is put forward in the video – walking meetings. Too much sitting is bad for us and walking meetings is good not only for health purposes, but to get out of the office and to keep meetings short.

Take a moment to reflect on this idea. What is your response?

This idea costs in principle nothing to try out and it is easy to test. Yet many people simple reject the idea. Critical and negative comments may be put forward. But even if some ideas are easy to test, the problem is more of lack of ways of thinking related to new ideas. Every new idea should be explored by using a simple and quick tool called PMI – plus, minus and interesting. A quick exploration where you focus on three different aspects with an idea. This quick way prevents us from making quick judgments. And it saves us even from test stupid ideas like walking meetings. . . because it is silly. . . or maybe not. . . well, at least this is interesting about the idea. . .

And you can read more about ways to overcome negative attitudes to new ideas in our eBook.

Photo “Idea On Monitors Showing Variety Of Thoughts” by Stuart Miles

Robustness in Networks

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Our thinking habits are often based on simple cause-effect relations as can be seen in Newton’s mechanics, engineering and economics. However, with the coming of quantum-mechanics, interconnected computers and global interrelated economies  maybe our standard cause – effect need to be replaced by systems thinking.

Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

In a recent blogpost, “Training in economics is a serious handicap” we shared David Orwell’s opinion that neo-classical economics is a dangerous doctrine. Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system. He proposes a systems approach to economics, in order to avoid system risk.

Systemic risk, the risk of collapse of an entire financial system or market, as opposed to risk associated with any one entity, could be reduced by introducing the concept of robustness. It can be defined as “financial system instability, potentially catastrophic, caused or exacerbated by idiosyncratic events or conditions in financial intermediaries”. It refers to the risks imposed by interlinkages and interdependencies in a system or market, where the failure of a single entity or cluster of entities can cause a cascading failure, which could potentially bankrupt or bring down the entire system or market. It is also sometimes erroneously referred to as “systematic risk“.

To make the economy more robust David Orwell in his book Economyths – How the Science of Complex Systems is transforming economic thought – proposes:

  • Modularity. Modularity is the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.
  • Redundancy. Redundancy is the duplication of critical components or functions of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system, usually in the case of a backup or fail-safe.
  • Diversity.  A degree of diversity in a system can help it adapt to change.
  • Controlled shut-down. If entities (banks, companies) are damaged beyond repair, they must be taken apart from the system, before it infects the whole.

One problem, that is not efficient.   Later we will explore Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s   ideas about robustness and fragility. See also our blogpost Mainstream thinking about designing systems.

Go here to look at our new eBook.

Photo “Business Network” by jscreationzs

Negative Thinking and Negative Attitude

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Negative thinking is often confused with a negative attitude to ideas and solutions. A search for negative aspects is NOT the same as a negative approach. Looking for risks and dangers can save your life and ensure that your project or idea is save to carry out.

Edward de Bono’s approach to thinking encourages habits that are used to explore ideas. This is a positive approach even though you may be searching for ideas to reject an idea. Using a thinking framework, such as the Six Hats, may help you to control negative thinking and instead engage in a positive exploration for risks, negative points, or negative values.

Below is an xcerpt from our eBook Thinkibility – Positive & Negative.

Bias by Optimism

Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive human trait that influences domains ranging from personal relationships to politics and finance. How people maintain unrealistic optimism, despite frequently encountering information that challenges those biased beliefs, is unknown. A possible explanation is that we are selective in the type of information that we update. Optimism bias could be described as selective update of beliefs that are positive and better than expected. Thus, we may be reluctant to update information that is worse than we expected. Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, or delays when plans are implemented. More generally, optimism biases are related to the initiation of military conflicts and the creation of economic bubbles. Megaprojects, like those in infrastructure, are well known for their optimism biases that lead to budget overruns and technological failures.

Avoid Negativity

The search for risks should not be monopolized by negative thoughts, and the assessment should be carried out in a positive and constructive manner where the aim is to explore risks and the potential harmful effects with an idea. Under the Black Hat the dangers and risks are assessed but the metaphorical Hat is also used to make a final assessment of an idea or proposal. The request to use the Black Hat thinking is in itself more neutral than to ask for a careful exploration. However, the colour black is sometimes associated with dark thoughts and negativity. Occasionally, the Black Hat is renamed and referred to as the Purple Hat: this approach is often used with younger children.

It is important to be aware of the distinction between actively seeking for potential dangers and having a negative attitude to new ideas and solutions. The request to use Black Hat thinking can lead to an exaggeration because it is explicitly assumed that since we are metaphorically wearing the Black Hat, we must make an effort to come up with negative points and bad aspects.

Black Hat thinking is an attempt to explore negative points as objectively as possible – a kind of role-playing. In contrast, negativity is often described as character trait – a tendency of being unconstructively critical.  Sometimes a person is described as having a negativistic personality. The good news is that negativity is a way of thinking that can be changed and turned into an exploration of risks and dangers. Negativity bias is a situation when a person pays more attention to negative rather than positive experiences. If someone gives us positive and negative information about a stranger, it is easy to make a negative judgement of the stranger. If the information is more or less of equal weight, we should have a neutral picture of the stranger.

Interestingly, negative information in the form of negation attracts more attention than when expressed in a positive affirmative way. When we describe someone’s behaviour in an affirmative way, it receives less attention than when we describe the same behaviour by using a negation. Consumers often give more attention to a product that has received a little negative publicity – the negative publicity seems to raise our curiosity about the product.

However, many of us think in the same way every day, and it is nearly impossible for many of us to make it through the day without negative thoughts. It can be everyday things such as the way the traffic does not flow because of too many cars, or as complicated as the daily running of a household.  This attitude, this way of engaging with the world, is often encouraged. Finding faults and negative consequences with a suggestion or hypothesis is appreciated and this kind of thinking is linked to the critical thinking framework, which in itself is a valuable way of approaching problems.  Yet a critical approach is not the same thing as a negative approach to thinking.

Negative thinking or rather a negative approach to ideas and suggestions, is not a fruitful way of exploring a subject. In contrast, if we are metaphorically wearing the Black Hat, we check a statement or idea to see if it fits the facts.  An idea may appear to solve the entire problem but there can be a dangerous side to the idea. The Black Hat thinking asks for a careful approach and an examination of potential risks.

Awareness of the Team’s Strengths

A sport coach must be aware of the team’s weaknesses and strengths. The coach uses this knowledge to analyse how different factors affect the play. This awareness helps the coach to achieve the team’s goals. To complicate things, the team’s positive and negative aspects depend upon the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to consider positive factors, while maintaining or eliminating the negative ones.

A sport coach cannot adopt a negative approach to thinking when he or she is exploring tactics and choosing the team. The identification of negative factors that need to be eliminated should be carried out in a way that explores the possibility of their removal or reduction of their impact.

Challenging Negativity                                                                                                                                            

We are thinking negatively when we fear the future, or expect failures. Negative thinking damages confidence, and harms performance. Challenging our own as well as an organisation’s negative thinking is important. The more we fire neurons in a certain way, the stronger the paths become, and as a result it gets more and more difficult to change the negative thinking pattern. It is easy to be trapped in pessimistic thoughts and mental loops that tell us that there are no other possibilities.

Awareness that alternatives may exist make us more aware of the depths of the possibilities. We can be stuck by negative thoughts or mesmerised by the number of alternatives and directions that we can take. The idea to replace negative thoughts with new ways makes logical sense but it is not easy. The aim is to move forward in the thinking rather than explore the world in a negative manner. Finding faults should be done with the explicit goal to find new possibilities. Different tools and methods need to be used to break negative thinking. We will discuss some methods in the following sections.

Throughout our lives, we often try to explain and endure stress and anxiety by viewing our existence with a “dualistic mind.” We create a world of private duality, a world that is limited and fixed – to what in daily conversation is called black and white thinking. This expression refers to thinking of either/or character. For example, the solution is good or bad, strong or weak, and smart or stupid. This way of thinking gives us a false sense of security and control over life’s uncertainties. Dualistic thinking makes us feel in control and it is easy to think that we do not have to search actively for other ways to describe the risks and concerns regarding a solution. This one-sided and inflexible thinking makes us ignore subtle degrees and variances.

Photo: “Cheerful Silhouette Boy” by arztsamui

Wishful Thinking

Thinking Patterns
Not all thinking pattern are beneficial such as distorted or negative patterns. But what about Wishful thinking? What we believe is true and what we wish were true can be very different. But how do we separate between belief and desires? And can wishful thinking be useful?

A common assumption is that we are constantly evaluating and planning our actions. But we are creatures of habits. And our thinking is characterised by habits. Our thinking takes place in a setting, to deal with new situations and information we rely upon finding patterns and routines. Thinking patterns refers to a certain way of thinking. In some situations, we may be more prone to negative and destructive thinking patterns such as “something good will never happen to me”.  At other times, when we are engaged in problem solving activities we may be prone to engage in correlative thinking, which is mainly driven by intuition.

A problem is that we do not know how or when to use different thinking frameworks. Shifting between different types of thinking pattern is like changing gear in a car. Gears allow us to use different speed range but one gear is not necessarily superior to another. A low gear means more power, which may be useful when we are driving up a hill. Similarly, when one thinking pattern does not help us to solve a problem, it makes sense to change pattern.

If you are focusing your attention on finding risks and dangers with an idea – metaphorically wearing the Black Hat – wishful thinking is regarded as not appropriate. In contrast, when you are looking for positive aspects – metaphorically wearing the Yellow Hat – wishful thinking is welcomed. It may also be welcome when we are invention things and looking for new ideas. Steve Jobs was known for his wishful thinking. The term Reality Distortion Field was used to described his skill to persuade and charm  others to believe and support his ideas. Regardless of  how loud others shouted that it was impossible, it did not stop Steve Jobs. And in many case, he managed to prove that it was possible indeed.

Exploring Wishful Thinking
Sometimes we like to believe things confirming with our wishes so much we ignore evidence that suggest the contrary. In science, different techniques and methods are used to ensure that we can counteract wishful thinking. An experiment should be carried out in a way that separates what the scientist hopes and wishes to be true from what there is good reason to believe to an accurate description of our world.

Whatever we wish to be true, we can always find evidence that confirms that our wish may be true. It is nice to have our wishes confirmed. When we use wishful thinking, we ignore evidence that may run counter to our idea.  This means that our conclusion may be wrong. Wishful thinking sounds like something we all should avoid and it is tempting to believe that you are not vulnerable to it. Or that certain people are less susceptible. But we all need to look for signs of wishful thinking. We need to search for ways to guard ourselves against dismissing evidence that does not support our wishes.

  • Confirmation bias – we favour information that confirms our existing beliefs
  • Expectation bias – we look only for results that support our theory or model.

Einstein did not like the idea of black holes and he refused to accept the possibility of black holes. He disliked the idea so much that even though other scientist used his theory to show that he was wrong, he still refused to consider the possibility of black holes.  He published a faulty paper supporting his position and he never changed his mind!

Are climate deniers notorious wishful thinkers? Skeptical Science is sceptical about global warming scepticism. The site explores if arguments against global warming is based upon scientific results or if it is wishful thinking.

It is easy to draw the conclusion that wishful thinking is of little value. Yet it is how we explore and what we do with our wishes and beliefs. Working backwards from an idea or suggestion is one way to explore the underlying assumptions.Let us use climate change as an example.

  • Climate change will not lead to disaster.There is no climate change. Work backward and look at issues such as the relationship between higher  CO2 and the idea that there is no climate change. How does that work? Check the logic and look at the evidence.
  • There is climate change but we can deal with it. Work backward  and explore how humans, animals and plants how adapted to new circumstances.
  • Climate change will lead to a disaster (reverse wishful thinking).  What is the worst scenario? Work backwards and ask yourself: “How could it happen? Then examine the logic and look at the evidence.

Wishful thinking is an excellent opportunity to search for things that you value. Ask yourself why do you not want to believe that there is a chance of global warming? Are you scared of what might happen? Do you value your life style too much? Do you believe that adaptations to new conditions are beneficial for humans, animals, and plants?

Identifying your thinking pattern and exploring underlying assumptions is important whether you are using logical, lateral, or critical thinking frameworks. It is also important when you are using wishful thinking.

Photo: “Nature Water1” by Danilo Rizzuti

A First-Rate Madness – Book reveiw

How can we use knowledge and understanding about depression to enhance our thinking skills?

Depression is linked to negative views of yourself and the world. Sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles and disappointments. But depression is much more than just sadness; some people describe depression as “living in a black hole”. Yet psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi believes that people suffering from depression may be good candidates for certain positions. He suggests that people suffering from depression often have a realistic view about their place in the world – making them a suitable candidate to lead in a crisis.

Mildly depressed people tend to see the world more clearly – more as it is. In a classic study, people pressed a button and observed whether it turned on a green light. The light was controlled by the researcher. People suffering from mild depressive symptoms realised that they had little control over the light. Non-depressed people believed that they could control the light – a slightly inflated sense of how much control it is possible to have over the world.

In the book, “A First Rate Madness” several case studies are discussed that examine respected political figures who lived with depression and/or mania. Nassir Ghaemi argues that the fact that the leaders suffered from a mental health condition actually enhanced their leadership skills. During times of peace, a leader that is regarded as mentally healthy may do well but they may experience problems during crises. Classifying mental problems is difficult and using historical figures to prove an idea is even more difficult. Yet Nassir Ghaemi’s ideas are interesting when we are discussing thinking related to an active search for risks and dangers with an idea or suggestion.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”, but maybe it is possible to use the understanding of the “creatively maladjusted” to improve our thinking skills. Exploring risks and dangers is an attempt to examine negative points as objectively as possible – a kind of role-playing. A “good” thinker is not characterised by superior cognitive abilities or skills. We can set ourselves apart by our tendencies to explore and enquire. We can develop curiosity and be prepared to plunge ourselves into intellectual risks and challenges. We can learn to think critically and logically. Challenge ourselves to think laterally and imaginatively.

The habit of changing the thinking and adapt it to the situation is vital and knowledge and understanding of when to use a thinking framework or technique is vital. So is the habit of constantly reflecting and monitoring the thinking. Are we overly optimistic because there are reports of an economic down turn? This awareness may help us to improve upon risky ideas and solutions. Rather than a quick rejection of ideas, it is more fruitful to explore ways to improve the weak points. Strategies can also be used such as choosing more risky options every Tuesday or every fifth time. Instead of rejecting leads for new business opportunities a higher risk project could be check out but not every time. A flexible approach mixed with awareness of how we tend to think and act in a crisis may help us select the best option and idea.

Black-and-White Background

How does black-and-white background influence our thinking?

Thinking is never neutral. Focusing our attention on different aspect is often more difficult than we imagine. Many “little” things can affect our thinking. A recent study suggests that if we see something on a black-white background it is harder for us to consider grey areas when we are solving moral dilemmas. It appears that our judgement becomes more black-and-white.

Simone Schnall and her colleagues found that when people rated a fictional  moral story their ratings were influenced by the colour of the border. The participants saw the tale next to a black-and-white checkerboard, grey, or yellow-and-blue checkerboard. There was no difference between the grey and coloured checkerboards. Stronger judgement against the man’s behaviour was made when they saw the black-and-white checkerboard.  They same pattern appeared when the participants were asked questions about moral and immoral behaviours or asked to make judgements about fairness. This research, which has not yet undergone peer-review, adds to other interesting finding such as the way holding a hot cup of tea or coffee in one hands influences our perception of a situation,

All this is fascinating; yet the interesting question is how to prevent us from letting the environment influence our thinking. A first step is to develop an awareness of how various aspects in our surroundings may influence later thinking. It is also vital to explore different techniques to help us stay focused on the task. We can take breaks to help us clear our minds when we switch our perception and direct our thinking to other aspects.

Would the result in the study change if the participants had been allowed small breaks between reading the story and answering the questions?. Or is it possible to change the result by informing them that the background may influence their thinking. While we are waiting for new results, we can always test some ideas ourselves. How much can we influence out thinking by thinking about possible factors that may have influenced our thinking. Is it easier to look for risks and dangers when we are looking out of the window and the rain is pouring down?  

Under the Six Hats Thinking framework as designed by Edward de Bono we select a metaphorical thinking Hat as a way of directing the attention to a certain aspect. Switching from wearing one metaphorical hat to another is difficult. Awareness and tricks need to be used to ensure that our thinking under the Blue Hat is not too optimistic if we previously used the Yellow Hat. It is deceptively easy to believe that Blue Hat thinking is neutral. Moreover, it is easy to believe that we are in fact making a “neutral” evaluation of the thinking. However, our thinking is influenced by previous thinking and our feelings. A possible method that can be used is to take a small break when switching from one metaphorical thinking Hat to the next. We can listen to some music, walk around in the room, or mediate for a couple of minutes.

Photo: “Pixel Point” by Salvatore Vuono

World Thinkers’ Ideas – Degrees of Impossibilites

Learning from history is difficult and often the same mistakes are repeated over and over again. And history has repeatedly shown that it is dangerous to say that some things are impossible.

To find a solution to any problem you have to believe that there is an answer. If you have lost your mobile phone in your house, you will search until you find it. If you ask yourself, “Is there a mobile phone in my house?” well, chances are that you will not search for long. The same idea should be used when we are trying to solve a problem, or are looking for a new idea. The perception that there is a solution means that we have to start looking we need to decide techniques where to look and how. In contrast, if we ask ourselves “Is there a solution?”  It is easy to give up an answer the question with “No there is not solution, it is impossible.”

Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and the author of “Physics of the Impossible”, distinguishes between three different types of impossibilities. A hierarchy of impossibilities. Kaku says that Class 1 impossibilities are things that can be achieved in the near future. Today scientists are working on invisibility cloaks and there is optimism that it will soon be possible to make an object invisible. Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak may be a possibility within this century.

In contrast, Class 2 impossibilities are tricky and it may take thousands or millions of years to achieve. Often these types of   ideas require enormous amounts of energy and they require that we use physics that is little understood. Today, it may be impossible to build a time machine and it may not be possible this millennium. But declaring it as an impossibility is a different matter. Stephen Hawkins tried in the 1990s but he failed to prove that it is impossible to build a time machine.

The third type of impossibility violates known laws of physics. Some ideas can be truly impossible or we may have to discover some new laws of physics to make carry out the idea. Kaku suggests, that building a perpetual motion machine is a Class 3 impossibility.

In a subject such as physics, it may be easy to distinguish between different types of impossibilities, since it is possible to refer to the laws of physics. However, this idea can be applied to thinking about other subjects. Instead of saying that an idea is impossible it may be fruitful to explore why and to what degrees an idea is impossible.Is the idea that we can reduce the number of armed robberies with 99 percent, class 1 or 2 impossibility? How impossible is the idea with global citizens? And can we take all traffic signs away and still reduce the number of traffic accidents?

Photo: “Spheres Balance” by Danilo Rizzuti