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.
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.