Think It Through!

11 08 2017

IBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920’s to the present.

Think.

“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would help the company to grow and flourish.  He made a forceful case that the phrase “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  Many IBM employees—engineers and others—would carve out big chunks of time every day simply to think.

One of the reasons why things tend to stress us out us is the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and solving the problem by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially solutions.  This applies to any area of life, not just mechanical headaches like a malfunctioning smartphone.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking, which he labels simplism, is the plague of our times.  And the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

I know a dad who regularly counseled his adult sons when first entering the real world of work to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call this process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off your smartphone for a while and give yourself to the task at hand.
  • Think with pencil and paper in hand.  Or pen and Moleskine. Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing things out clarifies your own muddy thinking.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis. Then he’d come up with every possible argument against  Then he’d finish with even more powerful arguments in favor of his position.
  • Try seeing your riddle through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A true “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is hard work, but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

 

Suggested Resources:

Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser (Guy P. Harrison)

Leonardo’s Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Leonardo da Vinci & H. Anna Suh)

 

Image Credit

 





The Necessity of No

25 07 2017

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no.”  So wrote Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their bestselling book, Boundaries.   Some people excel at saying “no.”  My wife is quite proficient at it.  Me?  Not so much.  But I’m learning.

I know a minister who requires those he’s going to marry to read Boundaries.  He said this book is the most important book to him outside the Bible.  And to prove it, he asked a prospective groom—to whom he’d assigned the book quite some time before—if he’d read the book.  This was Wednesday.  The wedding was on Saturday.  “Uh, no.  I haven’t gotten to it.”  “Well, you better get reading or I won’t marry you guys on Saturday.”

He read the book.  It’s a big deal.

One of the go-to sentences we use a lot these days, especially with those close to us when we cannot say yes is “they’ll just have to figure it out.”  We are defaulting to this more and more, with good reason.

If you don’t know how to say no to people, you are like a painted target.  Those who have a poor sense of boundary and propriety hone in on “really nice people” like an F-15 locking on to a target in war.

If you don’t learn how to say no, you will have a life of varied chaos.  You will allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  You will enable irresponsible behavior.  And with such enabling behavior comes burnout and a loss of self-respect.  I know.  I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit.

People say yes to all sorts of requests for lots of reasons, some good, others not.  Sometimes we say yes because we are generous people who want to help.  But if one’s tendency is to always say yes to some appeal, it’s unlikely that the motives are pure and good.

We often say yes because we feel guilty saying no.  We say yes because we want approval.  We say yes because we’re afraid our egos will suffer if we do otherwise.  We say yes because we are anxious.  Most of all, we default to yes because we lack a clear sense of self.  Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.

When we say no.  When we are not quick to step in when someone has gotten into a jam, with all the attendant drama, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt them.  There is something healthy and ennobling about letting someone “figure it out.”  It is in solving the problems of life, especially the kind we’ve brought on ourselves, that we grow.

So here’s a challenge.  Starting with small steps, begin to know when to say no.  And then say no.  One of our favorite forms of no is “I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.” If your default setting is to say yes, you probably need to work on changing it to no.  Take a step back and be brutally honest with yourself.  “Will this really help them or is it just sparing me pain in the shortfall?”

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (M. Scott Peck)

 

Image Credit

 





Letting Others Think For You? Think Again

24 02 2014

homework

One of the most challenging tasks one can engage in is focused and thorough thinking.  Our very human tendency is to take the easy way out of things.  In the realm of thinking, the easy way out is often found in 1) trying to find cut-and-dry, black-and-white solutions to every problem or 2) denying the complexities of modern life offering superficial and simplistic solutions to sizeable challenges.

M. Scott Peck once discussed the problem of simplism in his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, which tends to reduce the complex challenges of modern life into neat and tidy solutions.  Too often, we gravitate towards simplistic solutions to these difficulties and mysteries.  Why?

For one, it’s easier.  Thinking–serious thinking involving focus, research and reflection–is hard work.  Again, we have a bent towards laziness…following the path of least resistance and exerting minimal effort.

The problem with simplistic thinking is that easy answers in neat, tidy packaging eventually get found out for what they are.  The result?  Cynicism.  Disillusionment.  Loss of values.  Even loss of faith.  Having come from a background that has included not a few years as a minister, simplistic solutions to serious problems ultimately destroy in the end.  Fundamentalists, note this please.

The solution?  Do your homework.  Whatever your challenge, put your time and paces in to get to the bottom of a matter.  The greater the stakes, the more effort you must exert.  At times, life is simple, even black and white.  Most of the time it is not.  If you know this going in, you’ll fare well and your ship will probably moor safely.

Do your homework.  And don’t leave it to anybody else, even the experts.  There’s far too much at stake.

Image Credit

 





Doing Your Homework

25 10 2013

Do Your Homework

“Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out.  Got a good reason for taking the easy way out.” (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)

One of the most challenging tasks one can engage in is focused and thorough thinking.  “The easy way out” is often found in 1) trying to find cut-and-dry, black-and-white solutions to every problem or 2) denying the complexities of modern life offering superficial and simplistic solutions to sizeable challenges.

M. Scott Peck once discussed the problem of simplism in his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, which tends to reduce the complex challenges of modern life into neat and tidy solutions.  Too often, we gravitate towards simplistic solutions to these difficulties and mysteries.  Why?

For one, it’s easier.  Thinking–serious thinking involving focus, research and reflection–is hard work.  Again, we have a bent towards laziness…following the path of least resistance and exerting minimal effort.

The problem with simplistic thinking is that easy answers in neat, tidy packaging eventually get found out for what they are.  The result?  Cynicism.  Disillusionment.  Loss of values.  Even loss of faith.  Having come from a background that has included not a few years as a minister, simplistic solutions to serious problems ultimately destroy in the end.  Fundamentalists, note this please.

The solution?  Do your homework.  Whatever your challenge, put your time and paces in to get to the bottom of a matter.  The greater the stakes, the more effort you must exert.  At times, life is simple, even black and white.  Most of the time it is not.  If you know this going in, you’ll fare well and your ship will probably moor safely.

Do your homework.  And don’t leave it to anybody else, even the experts.  There’s far too much at stake.

Image Credit





Scott Peck on Solving Problems and Growing

3 10 2013

The Road Less Traveled

“It is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.” (M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled)

Image Credit





Why Servant Leadership Carries the Day

7 09 2013

servant-leadership1

“Servant-leadership is more than a concept; it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.” (M. Scott Peck)

Today, let’s look at the concept of servant leadership.  This particular approach to leading people has become popular and valued in recent years.  Our discussion will highlight why servant leaders are most effective.  In short, a servant leader rules—in the healthiest sense of that verb.   There are sound reasons why.

To properly care for those with whom we’ve been entrusted is a sacred responsibility.  Lives are either ennobled or disgusted, even scandalized, by the exercise and example of leaders both good and bad.

At the core, a real leader must come to understand this value if he’s to succeed at all:  It’s not about you; it’s about them. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch–voted Manager of the [20th] Century in 1999 by Fortune–said this:

“The day you become a leader is the day it becomes about them, not you. It is your responsibility to develop your team.”

What are some qualities that set apart the servant leader and make him or her more effective than all others?

  • Servant leaders recognize the full dignity of the human person.  Those under our leadership are human beings, made in the image of God.  They are not chattel, a commodity to serve our self-interest.  They have feelings and aspirations.  Dreams.  They have a story.  They are not tin soldiers to be moved by our whims.
  • Servant leaders recognize that leadership is first modeled, rather than mandated.  We must first exemplify excellence in the way we conduct our lives.  There is nothing more contemptible for a soldier than having someone issue directives without climbing into the trenches.  Posers are quickly found out.
  • Servant leaders, though ultimately responsible to steer the ship, take into account the consequences of their decisions.  In the home, a wise husband listens to the input of his wife and his children.  And he does so with the kind of humility that is aware that he doesn’t have all knowledge and all perspective.  We all have blind spots.  Servant leaders understand that and weigh all immediately possible courses.  “First do no harm” is the chief maxim for the medical profession.  It is the same for servant leaders.

Are you a servant to those for whom you’ve been given responsibility?  Can you take steps away from your own ego and insecurity to put their interests ahead of your own?

Go ahead and do it.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

Image Credit





Factors In Success

17 08 2013

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

Image Credit