Creating the space to think

We can’t take the value of our thinking for granted: it doesn’t just happen. It’s like growing tomatoes. You have to plant them in the right compost, you need the right amount of sunshine, you have to water and feed them regularly and hold out a vague hope that the birds won’t get to them before you do. There’s a degree of skill and an element of luck.

Let me think about it

We can’t take our thinking for granted: it needs space for sharing and reflection, and we have to avoid the pressures that limit it’s effectiveness

In the Social Age, we do our thinking in our heads and within our communities, through a co-creative process. To do this to best effect, we have to be engaged in the right communities, in synchronous conversations where our reputation allows us to contribute meaningfully. The process of co-creation is about momentum, about building shared vision and value and about refinement and editing. I’ve laid out seven stages of co-creation here, but as it’s a co-creative process, you can add to these yourself!

Alongside this co-creative process, we have to reflect: reflection is the cooking process, it’s where we rationalise what we are learning against what we already know. It’s a little like growing tomatoes in that it takes time: you can’t necessarily reflect on demand, and you almost certainly can’t do it when you’re busy with something else. I guess that whilst co-creation is a dynamic and collaborative effort, reflection is initially internal (although it may become external when we share our reflective thoughts back into our communities.

Our values moderate and shape our creative and reflective moments: it’s hard to rationalise something if it’s at odds with our core values. These values are not fixed of course, we may revise them in light of what we learn, but they certainly act as a framework, a scaffolding for our thinking.

As we think things over, as we learn, there are two pressures that can restrict or restrain that thinking, one internal, one external. We moderate our thinking and our expression dependent upon audience: this is significant because it can be how bad ideas run for a long time. Certainly within organisations, we are thoughtful about our feedback: nobody particularly wants to be the person who sticks up their hand and says ‘that’s a bad idea’. This self imposed inertia, the conflict between what we believe and want to express and that which we think the audience want to hear can lead to bad thinking getting traction.

If we explore the history of bad ideas, from the rise of dictators to the fall of Lehman brothers, they tend to be founded on bad ideas that gained momentum, that were never killed, over time. It’s not necessarily that nobody thought the decisions being taken were good: it’s just that the self moderating process prevented them from expressing that dissent.

The other pressure that tends to kill good thinking is that of our everyday reality. We are just busy. When we are busy, we tend to focus on creating meaning in the moment (which is good), but at the cost of reflection (which can make it bad). Reflection is what counters bad ideas.

Thinking about thinking may seem odd, but it’s significant when we are looking at organisational learning or change: we tend to focus on that immediate creative process, on immediate learning and recall, but often miss the reflective space or a full recognition of the barriers that can prevent us thinking things through.

Change will best be driven by an engaged community, one that owns the messaging. We have to ensure we support people finding the calm in the storm to reflect and that we recognise the pressures of their everyday reality.

I’ve had a couple of really busy days, and i’ve been surprised how hard it became to write the blog then: because my reflective space was the first casualty. Winning that space back today is my victory.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Agile, Challenge, Change, Collaboration, Community, Everyday Reality, Learning, Reflection and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Creating the space to think

  1. Nick Chisnall says:

    The challenge of ensuring the everyday reality and moderation does not dull our desire or ability to think and create improvement

  2. lauraeflores says:

    At times it feels like there is a monkey sitting on my brain and messing with my brain cells, thinking has been a laborous deed for some weeks now, stress definitely contributes to bad ideas.

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  4. benoitdavid says:

    [Preventing] bad thinking getting traction… [not] killing good thinking… [help] finding the calm in the storm to reflect…”… makes me think of your previous discussion about the role of Social Leaders. To me, this falls right onto their lap: because of their “leading” role, they can be instrumental in preventing the “bads” and supporting/fostering the “goods” of reflecting. They would make sure the thinking space you describe is “available” (as long as they are supported by the top of the house of course) for all to use. They would also be responsible to make sure it is managed properly, not to have “excessive” thinking going on, as stuff needs to be produced. ;-)
    Brainstorming session is a good example I think: the first part needs to be free, open-minded (even to allow input such as “this is a bad idea…” as long as it is conducive to healthy discussion… properly managed, for all that it entails).

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