Last week I setup a meeting where we’re going to discuss if and how we can implement creative and innovative ideas. As a homework assignment, I told the participants to start coming up with creative and innovative ideas to bring to the meeting.
On the way to work this morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t really told them how to do that, so this morning I shared these thoughts:
In the pressures of the day-to-day, we follow our instincts and professional judgment, and make many decisions in the blink of an eye. We decide without critical thinking. We “Blink”. And because we have good instincts and professional judgment, we get-by and move on. No doubt there’s room enough and a real need for those instincts and judgment calls. Brainstorming alternatives though is no place for Blinking because our instincts and judgment calls can be ineffective when they are influenced by likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes.
Likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes can be especially present when evaluating alternative ways of working, because no one likes to admit that they may currently be doing things in an inefficient way. There’s a bias toward the presumption that we’re already as efficient as we can be. We must be working efficiently because: why wouldn’t we? If our budgets have been slashed and our workloads have increased that supports our theory. But that bias toward the presumption of efficiency can be a roadblock to critical thinking about efficiency.
Because we Blink and because there’s a presumption of efficiency, we’re a body in motion. As circumstances force change, systems and procedures often evolve with marginal modifications and marginal changes in work practices, and we end up with a multitude of addendums and workarounds that get us quickly back on our original track.
Blinking can also prevent us from considering alternatives outside of our comfort zone. As Abraham Maslow said, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Recognize that even though you currently have a hammer, have a lot of experience with the hammer, and may even enjoy using the hammer, it may not be the right tool for every job.
To avoid Blinking, brainstorm alternatives, and evaluate alternatives based on evidence rather than instinct.
In the book Re-Think author Ric Merrifield explains that we typically focus on process: “how” we’re doing the job. And we forget about the bigger issue: “what” we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Ric encourages us to re-think by focusing on the “what” instead of the “how”.
No Silver Bullets
As we examine efficiencies and new ways of working, it’s important to go in eyes-wide-open, realizing that there are no improvements that will work for all of our customers all of the time. There aren’t even solutions that will work for a specific type of customer all of the time. Just as we provide a menu of services, we must provide a menu of options for customers to access those services, and train workers to select the best alternatives. Dismissing alternatives because they won’t work for all customers and/or all of the time, is a road that leads to nowhere, because there are no silver bullets waiting to be discovered. No silver bullets, but a real possibility of marginal improvements that taken together provide an opportunity to improve efficiencies and provide more/better/faster service.
If you think there must be an Easier Way, Follow that Instinct
When I talked about blinking, I explained that there was sometimes a need for instinct and judgment calls. A good example is when your instincts tell you there must be an easier way to do something.
Follow that instinct by gathering alternatives through:
• Critical thinking of current practices.
• Discussing practices with your coworkers.
• Discussing practices with peers.
• Describing current practices with IT.
• Describing what you do to someone who doesn’t know what you do.
When evaluating alternatives, don’t Blink.
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