Sunday 17 March 2019

Thinking about the Thinking Environment

Conference Delegates in Thinking Partnerships
As regular readers of my musings will know, I am a big fan of the Nancy Kline's work on the Thinking Environment (see the tag of that name for a list of my posts on it).  Just yesterday, for example, I gave a presentation on Time Management at a conference: and instead of an hour's erudite exposition of the Eisenhower Matrix, and my planning models that help address the issues that throws up, I gave them five tips and then introduced them to the thinking environment (as a tool and practice that they can use to think about their priorities and time management regularly). Then I got them to work in thinking partnerships to elicit their own best thinking about improving their time management. The energy level in the room was very high, and some brief feedback at the end of the session suggested that this was a useful approach, for those who spoke at that stage.

It went down extremely well with the rest, apparently: at least, they gave me a generous round of applause; though that may have been because I ended with a deliberate clap-trap (as Max Atkinson terms it, iirc, in his excellent Our Masters' Voices).

Nonetheless, I continue to question Nancy's thinking and approach, because... well, because that's what I do. I am curious. I read a lot. I try to put together new learning with what I already know.  So questions arise.

One of the books I am currently reading is Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.  If you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend it; it you have, you may be able to see where this post is going.

For what Kahneman demonstrates, over and over again, is that we all, habitually, use shortcuts in our thinking, without ever knowing that we are doing so.  Given that the Thinking Environment approach is predicated on the supreme value of people doing their very best independent thinking, Kahneman's work clearly raises some questions.  And for me as a coach, it seems, it also introduces some more responsibilities: I need to learn how to spot these short cuts, so that I can help clients to notice when they deploy them. Sharing such knowledge, appropriately, falls, I think, into the 'Information' component of the Thinking Environment model, and would be designed, above all, to help clients better answer the question: 'what are you assuming?'

The other area where I have a question is in the assumption that is, it seems to me, implicit in Nancy's work: that once people know what they think they should or choose to do, they will then do it.  I am not sure that the evidence supports that proposition: which is why in my book, Shifting Stories, I dedicate a lot of space to the topic of Thickening the Plot; which is essentially about how to make the new and more helpful understanding that we have generated, come (and stay) true.

I will get to work on both of these, and may report back in this blog in due course.  I'll also raise it with Nancy and others at the Collegiate in due course, and their response, too, may find its way into a further post on this blog.

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