Questions about Questions

QuestionsAlways the beautiful answer

Who asks  a more beautiful question.

E.E. Cummings

The single most important habit for an innovative thinker may be to ask questions. A well formulated question stimulate and inspire. Questions leads to more questions and the question is why we focus so much attention on answering questions and so little on asking questions.

Warren Berger says,
“Questioning—deeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”—can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities.”

Part of the answer lies in the way education values answer. The educational system is built to create workers and compliance and rote memorization are valued qualities. These qualities are not necessarily valuable qualities in the 21st century and they are definitely not qualities if you want to develop innovative thinking skills.

Seth Godin says,
“Our grandfathers and great grandfathers built schools to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.”

Warren Berger is the author of the book  A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas  and he says that the most innovative and creative people tend to be good questioners. Warren interviewed and studied innovators and designers and the common factors was the way these people kept asking questions. These people asked and formulated a question or a series of questions which lead to their discoveries. Yet, question asking is seldom taught.

Warren says,

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

Hal Gregersen has used a technique called Question-Storming. The idea is to generate a few powerful questions, which may help to determine direction for a search for new ideas and information. A crucial step in Question-Storming is to improve upon the questions and an advantage with this approach is that “good and fruitful” questions have a certain attraction to people. They are the questions that captures people’s attention and after a session you feel inspired to continue to explore the question.

Another approach to asking questions is to use three words to generate ideas.

“How might we?”

This approach avoids the problems linked to using questions such as “How can we do that?” or “How should we do that?” When posing these types of question, it is easy that questions such as  “Can we really do that?” are asked. These types of questions are problematic when you are trying to generate ideas and explore possibilities that can lead to an innovation.

The book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, is about questions that cannot be typed into a search box. Questions that challenge your thinking and inspire you to keep asking new questions. Yet questions themselves can be flawed and we must learn to question the question. The way we pose questions says something about our assumptions, biases and experiences.

“Have you visit The Right Question Institute?”

“What I am assuming when I ask that question?”

“Should I ask another question?”

 

Change a Point of View – Thinking Strategy

Recently we came across a handsome book by Jodie Newman called Business Creativity. In the chapter about  Creative Toolkit, we found five tools that we clustered around the theme Change Point of View, because basically they come all down to the same principle.

As we earlier pointed out each of us looks at the world from our Point of View, based on our experiences and agreements made by relevant others regarding how to attach meaning to the world. Everyone creates a kind of bulb around him or herself, wherein the world manifests itself as completely logic. How these logic bulbs are created – individually and collectively –  is described in our blog post Language is not Innocent – How Thinking Patterns are Created.

fig 1 language clour

A way to escape from your own logic bubble is to  do something what is like an out-of-your-body experience. Something that detaches yourself from your body, like visiting a distant location. This could lead to a change in perception on a challenge or problem you have, which is – per definition – creative thinking.

There are several ways to do this, as illustrated in the mind map below.

Change POV

  1. Prepare a list of 8-11 brands,customers, jobs, celebrities or stakeholders. Use logos, photos and images.
  2. Imagine (or ask directly) how this brand, customer, jobholder, celebrity or stakeholder would solve the challenge in question.
  3. Capture ideas that come to your mind until you have nothing more to add. Then pick up another brand, customer, jobholder,celebrity or stakeholder.

Other Thinking Strategies that we have paid attention to in this blog are:

There are more to come, so subscribe to  make sure you do not miss any!

Visualisation – Thinkibility Nibble

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Where do you search for ideas on reflection and ways to enhancing your awareness? How do you visualise the thinking steps to be taken to solve a problem?

Mental as well as physical components make up a successful athletic performance and the last decades various techniques have been developed to mentally prepare athletes.

Imagery is a technique that is used in sport and by musicians to decreasing anxiety and enhancing self-confidence, self-efficacy, and concentration. It is also a great way to review past experience. Imagery is an experience that mimics real experiences by using a combination of different sensory modalities. Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho uses imagery for game preparation and strategy purposes:

“When I train, one of the things I concentrate on is creating a mental picture of how best deliver the ball to a teammate, preferably leaving him alone in front of the rival goalkeeper. So what I do, always before a game, always, every night and every day, is try and think up things, imagine plays, which no one else will have thought of, and to do so always bearing in mind the particular strength of each team-mate to whom I am passing the ball. When I construct those plays in my mind I take into account whether one team-mate likes to receive the ball at his feet, or ahead of him; if he is good with his head, and how he prefers to head the ball; if he is stronger on his right or his left foot. That is my job. That is what I do. I imagine the game”.

Visualization technique is a sort of clarified daydream where a player or coach uses previous experiences to enhance the sense of reality.

Below is a video where the PETTLEP model of imagery is demonstrated on the golf course. This model is based upon the idea that shared areas in the brain are activated during both physical and imagined movements.

  • Physical – image the relevant physical characteristics. For example, a musician would imagine herself with a flute in the hand.
  • Environment –image in the environment where the performance takes place
  • Task – image details relevant to the task, these demands should be appropriate to the player’s level.
  • Timing –image in real time, but slow motion imagery can be used for difficult passages.
  • Learning – the imagery should be adapted and reviewed to match changes in the task and the level of expertise.
  • Emotion – use the same images that would be felt during the performance. But avoid using negative emotions such as being scared of a certain passage. Instead, it is important to image that the passage is played with confidence.
  • Perspective – the perspective can be through your own eyes and third person, watching yourself play the flute.

Photo “Violinist Jumping” by koratmember

Making Thinking Interesting

Often it is stressed that we should be creative and search for alternative choices or possibilities.  And seldom the interpretation of a phenomenon itself is subject to creative alternatives.

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In history, politics and news we follow mostly the elucidation as given by experts, journalists or opinion leaders.

In organisations, we make “sense” of what is happening but we tend to act first, and then form our ideas and opinions based on our actions, rather than vice versa (see also The Social Psychology of Organizing by Carl Weick)

In everyday life we often interpret behavior as a result of, at least for us, an obvious cause. The diagnosis of the cause may be incorrect since we made an erroneous assumption. There is also a need to be creative in our  interpretations of daily events and behavior at home.

Recently I came across an scientific article from 1971article called That’s Interesting! by Murray S. Davis. Although written in the context of what do make social theories interesting while  others do not, it gives us some good hints to construct alternative explanations that challenge current assumptions. Those are tools to break current thinking patterns, routine patterns or the status-quo, ways to set up provocations by a figure-ground reversal.

figure ground reversal

This helps us to shift the focus of thought. It is like a painting by  M.C. Escher, where we turn our assumptions around. What was white becomes black and vice versa. We turn the view upside down and search for new insights.

What seems to be a phenomenon that is …What in reality a phenomenon that is …. Is in reality a phenomenon that is …  Seems to be a phenomenon that is……
Disorganized, unstructured     Organized, structured
Composed of assorted heterogeneous elements     Single
Individual     Holistic
Local      General
Stable, unchanging      Unstable, changing
Ineffective  Ef fEffective
Bad       Good
Unrelated, independent       Correlated, interdependent
Existing together       Not existing together
Positive co-variation       Negative co-variation
Similar, near identical      Opposite
Independent      Dependent

In one of our next posts we will give you some of the most striking examples how Reversal as a thinking strategy has led to scientific and other inventions.

However, using reversal as a creative thinking technique is not restricted to interpretations of daily life, the news, politics, history or organizational behavior.

It can also be applied for devising exciting stories. As an intellectual holiday task, we challenge you to send us a short story where you have used one of above mentioned reversals (in the comment box).

Happy Thinkibility!

Focus on What Matters When it Matters

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When it comes to living incognito among coral, the pygmy seahorse is the specialist. Coral reefs may be bright and spectacular but they are rough places to live, so animals often use camouflage to stay safe.

Focusing the attention on what we are looking for may seem easy. We can easily multitask and search for several things at the same time. We can read a text message, look for the spoon in the kitchen, while glancing over to see what the kids are up to at the table.

We rely on this skill to quickly search our surrounding and find what we are looking for. Experience helps us develop useful shortcuts so that we do not have to waste our time looking for a butterfly on the rocks instead our eyes are drawn to the flowers in the garden, which is a more likely spot to find a fluttering butterfly.

Knowing what we are searching for is helpful. It is easier to spot the seahorse in the picture above if you know that you are looking for a seahorse. The sea horse’s shape will “pop out” at you. Yet if we are searching for the same thing, we become used to not seeing it. And we become less watchful. At the airport, the luggage checkers may miss the gun in the bag since they are so used to seeing no guns in the luggage.

Several ideas to make sure that people do not miss target can be used such as working with a partner, and increasing how often a person finds something. Sadly, none of these strategies seems to enhance the discovery rate. Yet training with feedback on the accuracy of each scan may enhance the discovery rate.

A visual search can be carried out in different ways. Sometimes an active search is good when we want to get new knowledge while a passive search may be better when we are looking for something that is hidden. We can let our intuition guide us.

But focusing on the attention on finding something, a visual search, may be different from focusing the attention on other things. And focusing the attention on what we want is not always part of the solution.  A sport person or musician needs to focus on thing that he or she does not want to happen. But it makes no sense to focus on what not to do or not to think of. For example, to say to yourself “I must not fall, I must not fall, ” will not prevent you from falling it might even lead to you falling. It is better to focus on things like I have to balance my arms (to not to fall).

More importantly, a sport person or musician need to focus on things that they can control. Many performers focus on things that make them anxious and distracted. By focusing on things you can control, you feel more confident and calm. This means that you may embrace the takes with confidence and present focus.

What does an expert focus on? A quarterbacks in football has to react and think very fast. Opponents are trying to prevent him from throwing a pass. If the back sees a blitz or that the line of teammates protecting him has been breached, he must make a quick decision. He can make a quick pass, take evasive action, or sacrifice himself to keep the ball. If he decides that he can survive he must decide where or when to throw the ball. Decisions regarding how potential receivers are moving and spread out must be taken into account. Lots of decision must be made while he is moving and avoiding other players. Noticing the important things is vital and making an instant decision.

Quarterbacks like radiologists and chess players use “selective attention”. A radiologist moves his or her eyes at a few locations before they are finding the necessary information. This means that if you put a gorilla in a non-vital area on the X-ray they will miss it. Expert thinks more efficiently and experience had thought them to eliminate and ignore certain aspects.

gorilla

In the video below, Jeff Nelsen, former horn player for the Canadian Brass, discusses how important it is that performers focus about the WHAT and HOW in their performing! But they need to refocus before their performance and focus on the WHYs.

  • Why do I perform?
  • What is it I want to share?
  • Why did I choose to perform in the first place?

Focusing the attention is a form of athleticism. Like swimming, it requires training and practice. Yet the why you train and focus your attention influence how much you get out of it. What aspects are important to focus on when you are solving a problem, or looking for new ideas? Do you need to refocus your attention? When do you need to refocus? And how do you know that you need to shift your attention?

Photo Steve Childs/Flickr

Patterns in psychological research

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Much, almost all psychological research has been conducted on students. It is for university professors the easiest way: students are at hand, no travelling required, students are cheap and available at convenient times, etc.

I have never seen psychological research of elderly other than research related to mental problems of elderly. I never came across standard psychological research (about perception, mental functions, cognition and behavior) among scientists, plumbers, shop owners, nurses, train drivers or in general people older than 25 years. If there were any, I bet that the research was conducted by written surveys, a not all too reliable method of gathering scientific insights because people tend to respond what is social acceptable. Also, there is quiet a difference between what people say about themselves as what they actually do. Students can be observed without much effort.

Of course, there are many research papers on therapeutic issues that involve non-students, but the majority of general knowledge in the field of psychology is derived from students at universities.

Students come mostly from middle class families, with a moderate income. They are between 18 and 24 year, at age the brain is yet not matured. They might act much more impulsive than people in another life phase. In Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development they are still wrestling with existential questions as Who Am I and What Can I Be and Can I Love? It seems to me that those issues as identity or role confusion and intimacy versus isolation must influence research outcomes and therefore can not be generalized to a whole population.

Students have not reached the phase of Grihastha, the second phase of an individual’s life in the Hindu ashram system. It is often called ‘the householders life’ revolving as it does around the duties of maintaining a household and leading a family centred life. In Erikson’s ideas middle-adults have transcended the wish to blend their identities with friends and wanting to fit in. They have another attitude about life. They want to contribute.

Students have already been in a school system. School systems are by itself total institutions. A total institution is a place of work and residence where a great number of similarly situated people, cut off from the wider community for a considerable time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. In order to function schools have a need to homogenizing behavior. By the time they are locked up in schools for more than 12 years that behavior will undoubtedly be internalized, and as such will influence any psychological research that is conducted with young adults.

 We need to be very careful with psychological research, and thus with psychologists who claim to work scientifically. It is better to say: psychological research has shown that young students tend to behave in circumstances like… etc. There is a huge bias in psychological research. Many psychologists operate in a young-adult logic bubble.

Images from Dreamstime Royality Free Stock Photos

Patterns in Organizational Design

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Thinking Patterns, or logic bubbles, is one of the key concepts of breakthrough thinking. It is not easy to explicate thinking patterns in day-to-day thinking neither in scientific disciplines. That is why we will attention to this phenomena in some next blog posts, for example, psychology research, education, free press, 24/7 schemes and “daily thinking”.

We will begin to identify some thinking patterns in organizational design. What is mainstream thinking when designing organizational arrangements? What are the hidden and unconscious assumptions people rigging organizations? Of course, not always and not by every company.

Notwithstanding that, it can be stated that the dominant ideas about how to set-up an enterprise are these:

  • The bigger the better. It is thought that centralization and scale will deliver efficiency advantages. However, the costs of (mis-)coordination are very often underestimated, let alone the power mechanisms that are evoked.
  • Give me more hands. Whenever a problem, an automatic reaction in organisations is to expand the workforce. However, lack of coordination or technical defects cannot be solved by “more hands”, it may even make the situation worse.
  • The grouping of individuals in units is the focus of organizational developers. It is assumed that the dominant choices are to be made around functions, skills, products, and markets. But it can be imagined that not grouping but the coordination between employees is made the focus of the design of a company.
  • The dominant coordination mechanism to be applied is increasingly “Direct Supervision” and “Standardization of Output”. It satisfies a need to be “in control”. However, Mintzberg showed us  that “Standardization of Norms”, and “Mutual Adjustment”, how soft those concepts also are, could be most effective.
  • The availability of efficient software packets determines organizational behaviour. The availability of cheap software to support the organizational processes defines how the organization will be structured, how the processes are carried out and even will determine the organization’s culture. The software is leading the design. Because many software programs were designed for an industrial environment -mass production, we should not be surprised that in research and service organizations there are serious frictions between the execution of tasks at hand and the supporting systems.
  • Leadership is important, or even strong leadership is important. In essence, the dominant idea is that people need guidance and are unable to lead themselves. And also that they need leaders to coordinate with others. Leading professionals? Do not do it!
  • Private owned organizations work better. Privatization of public services has been the motto for many years. In many cases, the opposite effect was achieved of what was intended. Many railway enterprises are not able to run trains smoothly because they developed a “management culture”, lacking essential technical knowledge to diagnosis problems and handle outsourced maintenance tasks.
  • Meetings are important. It is assumed that meetings are important to get each other informed, to solve problems or as a mechanism of feedback. But in many cases, it is an organizational ritual, satisfying the need of a manager to be important and to have a role. Without much exaggeration it can be said that structured thinking occurs rarely in meetings.

Go here to read more about patterns in organizations. Or read about patterns in general: Logic Bubblegum and Mental Inertia