Making Decisions

“We love this way of working, we get so many ideas and such great energy from it. The only problem is we still find it hard to make decisions.” That’s a summary of the kind of thing sometimes said to me by people who have successfully introduced this way of being to their teams and organisations. Yet find they still don’t make decisions clearly or well. And I’d say this is not because of anything to do with the Thinking Environment principles, I’d say it’s because this is a group that doesn’t have a clear structure or philosophy for their decision-making.  So what would that philosophy look like?

Obviously it isn’t easy: if it was it would already be in place. It requires preparation and discussion.  Here are some key suggestions for clarifying the usual sticking points.

Thinking about decisions in advance, we need to know which will require consensus and which will not – and what is the difference. Then prioritise the decision points on the Agenda.

Do we know how we will include the “Disagrees“ and still maintain respect and equality?  Surely the ideal is to be able to disagree without rancour and remain willing to continue the discussion.  So each person will need to develop a robust willingness to have their perspective challenged and be able to give information, data and history on their topic.

We would agree to  consistent attention-giving, a commitment to the facts, and no interruption.  With these vital points discussed and clearly in place, we can then hold our meeting as a Thinking Environment and go on to make clear decisions at the end of each Agenda item.

And if feelings are high and there is confusion and urgency, and a decision must still be made, then final authority rests with the Chair making a decision based on all that’s been said and then asking “does anyone here strongly oppose this suggestion, and if so what is your alternative?”  (Frankly, this is brilliant!)

This is the briefest summary of what’s been emerging from many conversations in Faculty and elsewhere about clarifying decision-making while maintaining a Thinking Environment.
What have you noticed that might support your decision-making?
What else have you discovered about this that works for you – I would love to know.

Factfulness

When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school―we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

I kid you not.  This is the outrageous-sounding claim made by Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician, academic and statistician who made it his life’s work to seek to correct the huge misconceptions and biases that drive our thinking.  Such as the ‘dramatic attention filter’ above. This is a man who ‘makes data sing’: for proof can I suggest that you go straight here htttp://bit.ly/2HsKkCe and enjoy the astonishment engendered by his ‘bubble data’ in a Ted talk that ought to be compulsory viewing in every university and classroom?!

And when you’ve done that, you can have a look at it in more detail here, bit.ly/2YFqF8a.  This Gapfinder site feels very important to me, because this key data is the basis for so much opinion, information and misinformation in our fast moving world, and Rosling  found a way to offer it so that it’s encouraging, helping us to think better about it.  And it’s free. What a lovely man.

It seems to me to align exactly with the Thinking Environment call on Information as a vital element in helping people to think clearly and well.  To think well we need accurate data and facts, not bias and personal opinions. If every child currently at school and every CEO currently running a business was to be presented with the bubble data so much would change.

Rosling’s book Factfulness has been my read of the year, and fills me with the same excitement and sense of coming home to truth as did Time to Think when I first read it in 2007.  It has given me back a much needed sense of balance and possibility, alongside a heightened and useful awareness of how much and how often we miss the point because we are missing the facts. Do read it, or watch the talk, or visit the Gapfinder site, and do please let me know how you might apply more factfulness!

Challenge

Mini rabbit

‘His behaviour is always a bit aggressive, isn’t it?.’
‘I find meetings with Jim difficult every time  – his attitude is so challenging’.
‘Oh pay no attention – she’s such a grumpy bunny.’

Labels are easy. What’s hard is to step back from the situation and to notice what’s really happening. And to notice that when someone behaves in ways that are very different from the norm it’s almost inevitable that they will be labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’.

How would it be if we knew that such people are different rather than difficult?   And that they need something different from us?  If we knew that difficult or challenging behaviour is behaviour that embodies the diversity that exists outside our often narrow scope of understanding, what then?  I appreciate that this is a really tough call sometimes, I find it hard to manage personally – and it’s an attitude that I’m aiming  to adopt when ‘challenge’ arrives in a group situation, particularly if I’m facilitating it, because it works.

There will be reasons for it. Reasons that I can’t see yet. Getting curious about the reasons for the difference is a great first step. Remembering that welcoming difference because it’s a necessary manifestation of reality is another step. Thinking of questions that might help the ‘challenger’ to think about what’s happening and what their contribution might be is another. And doing this instead of responding with classic ‘freeze’ mode really helps me.

During one long Board development day the Treasurer suddenly exclaimed ‘We are getting nothing done here, I don’t know if I can bear to stay.’  Her feelings of frustration were impacting on her capacity to think about the day as a long-planned development day and I knew her departure would sabotage the rest of the time that we had.  ‘What do you need right now in order to be able to stay?’ I asked her, trying to stay curious in the moment, already feeling the adrenaline surge. ‘ I need to know that this isn’t a waste of time!’ she replied sharply.

Together the Chair and I decided to call for a Round in which everyone answered the question ‘what have you found useful so far today?’ Listening intently to each different reply, the ‘challenger’s’ face changed and became interested, her shoulders relaxed and she stayed, and went on to contribute to the rest of the day. Whew.

This is part of the full meaning of Difference / Diversity as a vital Component of the Thinking Environment.  What use could you make of this when managing ‘the difficult one’ in your world – would this help? I’d love to know.

New Energy

Here’s another occasional thought from the gym. I attended my first aerobics session for two months on Friday last. I was a little apprehensive, even frustrated at how much I seemed to have forgotten, almost like I would ‘fail’ in some way.  I nearly didn’t go. Classic comfort zone stuff.

So this got me thinking about what happens when we don’t get enough opportunities to practice the TE principles, and as a result our facilitation or coaching can feel or become less purely a Thinking Environment. This can happen, for many good reasons, just like not going to the gym.  And then it’s natural to feel a little apprehensive, to worry about finding a way to start again gracefully – it can even feel like it’s easier just to carry on as we are, staying in the comfort of the known.

In my experience – in both cases – when I trust the process, all is well. On Friday I trusted myself to carry on with the ‘process’ of the routines even when I fell out of step a few times to begin with, and sure enough muscles and instinct kicked in, and led to a great session – and full endorphin reward.

Likewise during a facilitation or in a coaching session I know that when I trust the TE process, remind myself of the key principles, and deliberately choose to stay in a place of ease and non-judgement, things will go well. It’s no exaggeration to say that they always do – with full oxytocin experience too.

So that’s why I’m working on some ideas and dates for TE Refresher days.  In my venue at the The Grange in Ealing I’m going to offer a 10.00 – 4.00 day to allow for easeful travels for everyone; to have no more than 12 people, and to use the day to ‘practice practice practice’ in Thinking Pairs and small group, so that there’s lots of time for ‘live’ thinking about your own work as well as input and reflection on what’s new or different.  There’s always something new.

Day fee will be £90 including refreshments and lunch, I want to be as accessible as possible.  The dates are: Monday 29th April or Wednesday 26th June.  If keen please email by return so I can hold a place for you.  And I hope to offer something similar in Ireland too, later in 2019 or early 2020.

 

Kindness

You may already have seen this on LinkedIn: https://nyti.ms/2tufYrt, a recent New York Times article headlined ‘Kindness is a Skill’.  Subtitle: Practical tips for fighting a culture of savagery. Despite the subtitle, I found the article both encouraging and pragmatic, and then noticed how within a week it had been viewed nearly 900 times, a record for my modest posting history.  It evidently strikes a chord.

It was written by a genuine cynic, a journalist of long-standing.  That makes it even more fascinating. As you see it offers cryptic suggestions of ways in which people can be brought together peacefully and encouraged to think beyond tribe and opinion and anger.  It reminds me of what happens when we can offer just enough of the principles of the Thinking Environment, enough Ease and Encouragement to avoid competition and share time equally so that people simply have to start listening to each other, enough ground rules to make sure people are giving and receiving attention without being interrupted and triggered into aggression, above all it makes me focus on how to make this happen more in our sadly uneasy times.

It was wonderful to witness this ‘live’ at a recent UK TTT Collegiate day, when Nancy facilitated two discussion pairs on two very thorny topics (Brexit, and abortion), and to notice what started to happen as each listened to each other with respect and interest, above all listening to understand, not listening to compete and convince.  That’s the difference, isn’t it? When we listen to understand it changes everything about how we are in a discussion. And in the end, it feels kind. The people in the abortion discussion actually commented on how the listening had not changed what they felt and believed about the topic, but it had changed how they felt about each other. They felt warmer, less opposed, more understanding.  In a word, kinder.

It takes courage to be kind.  It takes wisdom, experience and discipline to be kind.  It’s hard. I think the ten beautiful, foundational, aspirational components of the Thinking Environment offer a practical, disciplined way to set ourselves up for kindness.  I wonder what you think, and where are you seeing kindness?

Sparking Joy

What if anything have you heard about Marie Kondo, the sorting superhero? Folding, rolling, even thanking your belongings one at a time – could that all sound a tiny bit obsessive to you? Yes, me too. It all provoked seven shades of scepticism when I (typically!) picked up ideas online.  And then early last year I watched some short videos (Component of Information, take a bow), and I realised that this tiny, beguiling, dynamic Japanese person has discovered something big. Making decisions is taxing, and it seems we have brain energy for a limited amount of it every day. She has realised that we can blank out almost every decision-blocking factor by asking one question, and then by giving full attention to our response.

‘Does it spark joy?’  For her it’s about clothes (the clothes above have been thoroughly Kondo-ed) and other household categories. For me it’s becoming applicable across the board. Here’s this old jersey, new book, proposed train journey, possible CPD/ piece of work – something I need to decide with clarity and ideally without delay.  Assuming that it’s something I don’t have to do, assuming that there is choice.  So now I ask myself: does it spark joy? And then consider carefully what comes up in response. So now I’m wondering about the difference this might make to me in 2019.  What do you think?

If the answer truly is yes, then you’re home and dry.  If not, what difference will that make? It does take practice, and it’s easy to make fun of it (remember our Thinking Inhibitors Ridicule/ Cynicism/ Sarcasm and what they do to shut down capacity to think well about something?);  you do need to open the heart just a bit to get easy with this and I’m still working on it. Because it works and not just for clothes. Paradoxically in a way it is such a head-clearer. I feel that if my decisions and actions can be guided by my internal response to ‘does it spark joy?’ then life can be calmer and richer, yet simpler and less confusing.

That’s how it’s looking to me now, despite that initial scepticism/ antipathy. So let me invite you to suspend disbelief, have a little look at lovely Marie here (and all over the internet!) and see what you think about sparking joy: http://bit.ly/2sm63Ua.. And please do let me know if it makes a difference!