Thinking about thinking

Using effective intelligence to make workplace decisions, solve problems, innovate

Thinking about thinking
There is a line of cause and effect from the hidden workings of a person’s mind to her eventual actions, according to an effective intelligence expert. Credit: one line man (Shutterstock)

Understanding your personal thought processes is the first step towards increased workplace collaboration, according to Julian Chapman, president of Forrest, an organizational transformation firm in Toronto.

And that’s because thinking drives action at work, he said at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto.

“When we talk about thinking, it really is about ‘How do we convey ourselves?’” said Chapman. “We’re talking about a common language for how you engage with other people.”

There is a line of cause and effect from the hidden workings of a person’s mind to her eventual actions, and improving the way a person thinks about tasks is the best way to impact end results, he said.

Through completion of a thinking-intentions profile, workers can grasp the core reasons as to how tasks are completed in the workplace, as well as engage their whole selves in the work.

It’s all about teaching people to think better, said Chapman.

“We’re trying to challenge their thinking to open up new possibilities.”

By completing a thinking-intentions profile, workers can define their thought process and how they use data to reach conclusions, he said.

“Those conclusions become the actions or behaviours and the results.”

“If you don’t know where your thinking is, and where your thinking needs to be, it’s very difficult to do that,” said Chapman. “The point about the thinking-intentions profile is to provide you with insight as to where your thinking is.”

Without knowledge of how thought processes come to be, workers may view colleagues as Martians, he said.

“Everyone sees our actions and results, but they don’t know what’s going on under the surface. In fact, they judge our actions and results — not based on our thinking — but actually based on their thinking. This is how we get a disconnect with people in the workplace, when they don’t really understand what is the thinking that’s going on,” said Chapman.

“The intent behind the thinking-intentions profile is to get you thinking about your thinking.”

The framework was developed by Philips, a technology company based in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

“The intent behind this was to create a usable tool that would enable people to think better in the workplace — to make decisions, to solve problems, to innovate,” he said.

Tension between “doing” and “thinking” is an ongoing challenge in the workplace, as many employees don’t receive enough opportunity to think — and become stuck in the “tyranny of do,” said Chapman.

“If we spend too much time in ‘do,’ we may not be getting the best results. If we spend too much time on the other side — in thinking — the opportunities may have gone past us,” he said.

“There’s this tension around thinking and doing that we live with every day.”

The model is most important during times of stress, and Philips’ original intention was “to create an opportunity for their employees to actually think through the tougher stuff — the things that slow down the business,” he said.

Three ways of thinking

All thought can be broken down into three patterns, according to Chapman: judging what is right (blue), describing what is true (red) and realizing what is new (green).

“We use all three of these, but we tend to have a focus on one over the other. This becomes our thinking intention — where we drive our intentionality.”

Judging is focused on getting to conclusions; describing is intent on getting to the truth of the matter; realizing is focused on the possibilities, he said.

Thinking is non-linear, and everyone typically focuses on one colour more than others.

For example, blue thinkers focus on the interpretation of facts in order to form an opinion and come to a conclusion.

Red thinkers spend more time on gathering facts, while green thinkers are all about possibilities.

The colours conflict with one another, said Chapman.

“We need to understand the dynamics of the three elements because they drive our orientation and where we tend to go.”

“In blue thinking, we tend to focus on our self, because that’s how we make the interpretation — based on our past experience, our DNA, whatever the case may be,” he said.

“In red thinking, we tend to focus on others because that helps us to gather facts. And in green thinking, it’s just about ideas.”

Green thought is typically viewed as “obscure,” said Chapman, noting the framework attempts to put it on the same level as facts and logic.

“It’s critical in this day and age of disruption, and the need for us to be able to think outside the box… to be able to access green thinking,” he said.

The three colours of thought can be further broken down into six mind-frames, as each can be divided into hard (external, impersonal) and soft (internal, personal) thinking, said Chapman.

Hard thought is management, while soft thought is leadership, he said. “It has to be a combination of both to be truly effective.”

Applying the framework

By understanding the styles of thinking, workers can aim to shift their profile over time, said Chapman.

“It’s important to understand how we (come across) when we’re thinking and communicating.”

In general, blue thinkers persuade and evaluate; reds explain, listen and sense; while greens explore and welcome insight, he said.

Green thinking is prone to run into a “wall” of judgment — an issue for companies pursuing innovation.

“The true issue of innovation is the ability to describe the new, unfamiliar thing — in other words, to make the unfamiliar familiar,” said Chapman. “You have to sell your thinking continually.”

“Each of us looks at the same things every day. And we process it very differently. Thinking is the ultimate diversity. It is what makes us very different.”

To sell effectively, research is needed to ensure people are interested before the convincing process begins, he said.

“People lose sight of that. Because if I’m selling you something that you don’t need and you don’t want, then I shouldn’t be selling it to you, because selling is getting someone to want what they need.”

Understanding what type of thinking is needed for specific tasks is another critical part of the equation, said Chapman.

That is best completed by following a process to determine what is important (blue), discover possible options (green), evaluate (red), and then decide (blue).

“The critical part is that first step of ‘What is important?’” he said. “It is not about the facts.”

That first step can often be forgotten in the workplace, said Chapman.

“We send our employees off to go and do things, but we don’t tell them what’s important… and when organizations don’t have a strategy, the employees can’t go and exercise their full thinking by generating the options, analyzing the options and showing how this will deliver the strategy.”

“The point of effective intelligence is it’s a language for thinking to get everybody on the same page.”

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