This article was written for the Institute of Directors way back in July 1991. And still holds true today.
It’s not what you think, it’s the way that you think it
As someone who” left” school at 15, it is understandable that my memories of school life are not rosy. As someone who was probably below the academic norm, it is perhaps not surprising that I might be ignored by teachers who, based in Liverpool and with 41 other kids to deal with, had other problems.
However, even if the time spend with me individually had been greater I believe my performance would only have improved moderately. This was due to concentration on subjects in which I had no interest and the way in which those subjects were taught. Nothing and no-one caught my imagination. Of course it is easy to look with hindsight. Even if teachers had identified my potential, my mind-set would have stopped me recognising it and applying myself. Which brings me to method.
How do you get people to understand the power – both positive and negative – that a “mind-set” gives? I have given this much thought. Not once during my time in school – ten years in which we are at our most receptive – was I taught anything about my brain, how it works and the power it gives you over your own life.
I realise, of course, that most of our current knowledge has been discovered after my school days. However, we did know of the brain’s existence and dissecting a human brain would have been infinitely more fun than removing the internal organs of some defenceless little rodent. In the same way encouraging me to ask “why?” and find my own answers would have had more chance of success than telling me to learn “what.”
I now firmly believe in – and actively taught, in my last company – thinking techniques. I did this to help my employees identify what their own, individual mind-sets were, look at others, and redefine their thinking. This, in turn, redefined the way they acted. If we have accepted that we have to learn to survive, the next step is to increase the ratio between learning and action. How?
If you are to ask someone to dismantle what they have, you must give them the tools to build something to replace it. If you want people to change their thinking habits you must help them. Equally important, in doing so you must recognise that each person is likely to find a different tool, the most effective for them.
My specific techniques were incorporated under the banner “Creating a thinking organisation” and now form part of a management development course. The results in my own company were astounding.
So the big question is, how do we help more people take what they have learned and adapt it to their own situation?
The answer is, give them the right tools to do it. We must give as much weight to the method as to the content of the learning. Equally, we must recognise that, while the content will be the same for everyone, the methods offered to help translate that into the workplace cannot be.
They have to be as diverse as the individuals in your organisation.