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Use Smart Thinking to Innovate and Solve Problems

By Alan Gehringer

    Fri, Jan 10, 2020 @ 11:26 AM Strategies for Growth
    I recently watched an interesting webinar by Art Markman, PhD, explaining the highlights of his book “Smart Thinking.  I found the concepts interesting and thought they were worth sharing as they align with one of our core values of “Keep Smart” and my personal belief in thinking outside the box to find opportunities to innovate and solve problems.  I believe that lifelong learning is essential.

     

    4 Smart Thinking keys to solving problems, innovating and getting things done are:

    1.  Develop smart habitslightbulbidea_icon

    2.  Acquire high quality knowledge

    3.  Use that knowledge when you need it

    4.  Leverage expert generalists

    We have the impression that only smart people can innovate, but in fact, the research shows that IQ scores, SAT scores, GMAT scores, etc. have very little influence on how intelligent an individual is.  Causal knowledge is the key to smart thinking.   Causal knowledge allows us to connect the facts, beliefs and knowledge through underlying and connective series called causal chains.  This leads us to ask the question “Why” and allows us to solve new problems and gain new knowledge.  We use the “5 Why” exercise often with clients to get to the root of a question or concept. 

    "What is Smart Thinking?" and why do I care?  The author offers tips for improving our knowledge and promoting smart thinking.  Smart thinking can be learned and it can help you and your company achieve its 3-5 year strategic plan.

    The key takeaways from Smart Thinking are:

    • Smart habits can be developed: The mind is not designed to think, but to operate based on routines and habits.  Habits are good most of the time, but do not promote innovative thinking.  We need to find ways to break out of the routines and habits.  Another fact is that the mind is not designed to multitask.  You need to do one task at a time to be most effective.  When you multitask, you are switching focus.  To be smarter, we need to protect our precious think time and eliminate distractions and interruptions.   Turn off your instant messaging, email pop ups and cell phone and truly concentrate on the task for the best results.  We need to develop a set of habits that enable us to maximize the knowledge we have, the knowledge to answer the question “Why.”  Being able to answer the question “Why” enables us to answer new questions using causal knowledge.  The better your causal knowledge, the more effective you are at solving problems.
    • Maximize the quality of knowledge: Humans suffer from an illusion of explanatory depth.  We are not that well-calibrated about what we do and do not know.  I am guilty of this myself, sometimes over-estimating my capabilities.  We think we know more than we do.   If you do not know what you do not know, you cannot repair the deficiency in knowledge.  The gaps you have in your knowledge do not allow you to solve new and difficult problems.  Why do we have this problem?  True causal knowledge requires us to ask why and why again to gain a true understanding.  Young children use this technique very effectively.  As adults, we sometimes get out of the habit; I think to protect ourselves from being exposed to what we do not know.  The fact is by asking questions, we learn ourselves and enable others to learn.  To truly learn a subject, we need to teach it.  It is then that we realize the gaps in our knowledge and can repair those gaps.  This forces us to master the content.  In addition, you can make people around you smarter by asking them to explain things to you.
    • Develop strategies to find essence: We must learn to apply knowledge we have gained when we need it.  Sometimes we do this by using knowledge that may not seem evident, but leveraged from our base of knowledge that may have used to solve other problems.  Ask your memory different questions to come up with new innovative solutions to problems.  I have encouraged clients through the years to read outside their field of knowledge, attend trade shows outside their industry, and study companies in different industries.  Expanding the base of knowledge can create new patterns for problem solving within your business.  Proverbs can help us think of new solutions.  Art suggests that we bookmark a list of proverbs on Google and take some time each week to explore the true essence of each proverb.  When you start looking beyond the surface, your memory will start giving you new ideas to solve future problems that are not obvious.  Humans suffer from an illusion of explanatory depth.  We are not that well-calibrated about what we do and do not know.  I am guilty of this myself, sometimes over-estimating my capabilities.  We think we know more than we do.  If you do not know what you do not know, you cannot repair the deficiency in knowledge.  The gaps you have in your knowledge do not allow you to solve new and difficult problems.  We also use the work of Kaihan Krippendorff and his 36 strategies to do the same thing.  Create new patterns for problem solving and idea generation to create Winning Moves.  
    • Leverage expert generalist: The last thing the author shares is that you may have people around you that are expert generalists.  Look for these people.  They know a lot about a lot of things.  These people are usually very open to new experiences.  They like to engage and encounter new things.  Also, look for people that are high in cognition, always wanting to learn about new things.  This gives them a large body of causal knowledge.  These people are usually good at finding the essence of problems.  When you find these people, hang on to them at all costs, for if they do not exist in your company, it is costly to go out and pay for their expertise.

    To summarize, the goal is to create a mindset of thinking, supported by your culture of accountability, and be prepared to use your knowledge when you need it.  Smart thinking is something we learn, not something we are born with.  Intellect is not the only predictor of success for solving problems and innovating.  To think smart, we need to create smart habits, overcome our illusion of explanatory knowledge, maximize the quality of our knowledge and embrace the expert generalists in our organizations.

    As a parting tip: Encourage your employees to spend 2-3 hours a week learning and allow them 4-7 days a year for outside learning events.

    Good luck with your problem solving and innovation activities!

    -Alan Gehringer 

    culture

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