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Quality of thinking

I spent the last two months on topics related to the “take action” aspect of innovation. Nonetheless, before you take action, an idea must be born first to inspire action.

I have written about creative thinking many times, it is a topic that both fascinates and eludes me, as the more I read and learn about it, the more it evolves. However, I have made some exciting discoveries since I last wrote about this way of thinking, and this I want to share and discuss in the next couple of deliveries.
Thinking Environment
As you know, I believe that every person has the ability to be creative. Creativity is not something that you have or not have, it is a skill that can be developed and excelled in. This viewpoint is also extensively advocated by Dr Edward de Bono, widely regarded as one of the foremost experts in the fields of creativity and lateral thinking.
As with any skill a person develops, there are conducive circumstances and there are inhibiting circumstances when developing the skill. As an extreme example, it is going to be tough to learn to play the violin while you are running a marathon, it will probably be better to try and learn to play the violin in a music studio or a classroom environment.
It is the same with thinking. The brain is an extremely complex organ and as such, it adapts to- and focuses on the task at hand. To use another extreme example, when a lion is chasing you, your brain will go into survival mode and probably give instructions to pump as much adrenalin as possible, not really the ideal state for the brain to solve mathematical problems. So, in a corporate environment, where most of us are usually focused on getting some job done, fulfilling the boss’s instructions, getting results or evading the next crisis, our brains are not really in a state to think of the “next big thing” that will delight your customers or a solution to that annoying problem that has been going on for years.
The case I am trying to make here is that to do quality thinking (i.e. come up with great ideas), you have to create the right environment for your mind to perform that task properly.
I know some of you are already thinking that I am talking about sitting on top of a mountain after you have done an hour of meditation. Well, that will probably help, but it is difficult to find that environment in the concrete corporate jungle most organisations find themselves in.
No, what I am talking about is a “Thinking Environment”, a concept developed by Nancy Kline, author of “Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind”. Over the past 15 years Kline has identified 10 behaviours that form a system called a Thinking Environment, a model of human interaction that dramatically improves the way people think, and thus the way they work and live. Kline’s framework is built on the realisation that the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.
The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking. She has identified the ten behaviours that generate the finest thinking, which have become known as “The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment”.
The ten components are: Attention, Equality, Ease, Appreciation, Encouragement, Feelings, Information, Diversity, Incisive Questions and Place.
I was on a course last week where we applied some of Kline’s principles, and I can honestly state that it really works and it made a difference for me. For those of you who are interested in this topic, I seriously recommend reading Kline’s books.


Next Time
The lesson in this article is that you must create the right environment in your organisation to foster quality thinking. I am also a big campaigner of the fact that the quality of the questions you ask determines the quality of the ideas you come up with. When you ask the best questions, you invite the best answers. So, once you have created the right environment for quality thinking, the next issue is to ask quality questions, the topic for next time. I conclude with a quote from Robert Frost: “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office”.
Nancy Kline

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