At work, we are constantly making judgements, taking decisions before we communicate or do something. That is what we do day in and day out. Which option to choose, what to do and how to do it? And, for every judgment call, we must have a justification, a reason, a rationale for why we chose the option we did.
The costs of bad judgments and decisions are high at a workplace. There is pressure on us to get it right, first time, every time. In addition to the pressure of not failing, there is the pressure of time, to do things within a deadline. We often don’t have the luxury of time to think.
Thinking is one of the most intuitive acts for human beings. It comes naturally to us. But, because we think as effortlessly as we breathe, we don’t view it as a skill.
Our ability to think well has an influence over everything we do. The quality of our lives is greatly determined by the nature and depth of our thoughts. This, in turn, determines how effective we are in dealing with people, information and situations.
Yet, thinking remains one of the least taught skills. The assumption is that the passage of school and college education arms us with the skill to think. However, if you look back, our earliest styles of thinking nurtured in schools is to learn to interpret the world through textbooks of different subjects. Often, we mistake gathering knowledge, or information, for thinking.
As we progress through higher education, and start jobs, we begin to build domain expertize. Soon enough, we become less comfortable, and less committed, to thinking about aspects that fall outside the comfort zone of our expertize or interest. We feel confident enough to work on tasks where we have an expertize. But, we fail to think clearly about things that fall outside this domain.
The struggle of making the right judgments and decisions begins here: when what we know isn’t enough to get the work done.
To think is to connect things and make sense of the world, or the people, problems and situations in it.
Doing so requires an understanding of different things, while being grounded in the knowledge in specific aspects. It also mandates having social intelligence: the knack to understand yourself, as well as those around you.
Learning how to think better sounds like an ambiguous, undefined challenge. While thinking, or improving how you think, cannot be learnt overnight, let’s break it down into five tangible skills to help you get started.
Think critically: We are constantly bombarded with information from all directions. The only way to separate fact from fluff and meaningful from meaningless is by thinking critically about what counts and what doesn’t, so that we can develop a bias-free, questioning mindset. For example, are you genuinely willing to question why a customer is not buying your product instead of assuming that the sales team is underperforming?
Learn expertly: In a workplace often ridden with ambiguity and change, an inevitable aspect of being able to think better is the ability to learn quickly, about new issues, ideas and solutions. For instance, do you learn by doing, by observing or by being taught?
Interpret self: To think better, it’s crucial to become more self-aware. The important aspects of doing this is identifying your strengths, recognizing your values and how they drive your actions, and understanding your preferences and how these affect work. For example, why is it that you procrastinate and projects always come down to the wire when you are involved?
Developing these skills is not easy, of course. Hopefully, breaking the act of thinking into distinct skills will serve as a starting point.
This column first appeared as part of the Art of Work series in Mint on March 5, 2019.
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