Thursday 24 February 2022

On bumping my head...

In our cellar, we have a low beam. Normally, without even thinking about it, I duck under it as I go from one side to the other. But occasionally I bump my head on it. And that is always when I am thinking of something.  I nearly said something else, but it is not that I am thinking of the beam normally - I just have a habit of ducking my head a bit. So it is interesting that if I am distracted from my normal routine of 'walk across the cellar' by something else - a grandchild, say - I often bump my head.

And that is consistent with various psychological experiments on multi-tasking (eg this research from Stanford). To try this out for yourself, try doing a fairly routine task, whilst counting backwards from 100 in threes.  You see what I mean?

All of which reminds me of the wisdom of something my very first boss in the training world taught me: OTAAT - one thing at a time.

What is interesting is that we know this, both from experience and from the research, and yet we are often tempted to do more than one thing at once: to check our email whilst in a meeting or talking to someone; or to interrupt our serious thinking work by checking the news headlines or the weather forecast.

Moreover, our work environments often seem to demand that we multi-task: how else will we get through the enormous volume of admin stuff we need to clear, before we can get on to our real work?  Yet that question is itself an illusion: we will rarely, if ever, clear all the admin we could possibly do, particularly if we work in a bureaucratic organisation. We must start form the other end: identify the best use of our time right now - the most important and urgent thing - and do that, to the exclusion of all else, at least for a period of time.

Of course we need to dedicate some time to staying on top of emails and so forth, but that should become second and be time limited: and when we are doing that, we should only be doing that.  Because ultimately, if we try to multi-task, not only will we be slower, less efficient and less intelligent, we may also hit our head on the beam...


Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Friday 18 February 2022

Scott's Learning Cycle

Many of my readers (quite possibly all three of you) will be familiar with Kolb's learning cycle.  It's a neat way of suggesting how we learn from experience, and reminds us to attend to various aspects of that when we are learning or helping someone else to learn. 

But recently I suffered a tragedy: the rear derailleur on my bike broke, and the bike shop said it was beyond economic repair.  In fact they went further and declared my bike dead on arrival, or as they put it, 'not possible to repair...not safe to ride... corrosion... deep into every bike component.

And as a way of mourning - and honouring - the passing of this bike, I thought I would reflect on how much it has helped me to learn, over the years: a bike I will fondly remember as my Learning Cycle.

Avid readers will remember how it helped me to become smarter than Sherlock Holmes, for example.  And how a fall from my bike helped me to recognise how I was developing my Inner Supervisor. 

You may also remember when I acquired the bike, a decade or so back, by dint of the excellent material on Negotiating Skills from Harvard (Getting to Yes) that I both teach and (on this as so many occasions) use myself.

But more profoundly, the bike has been part of my discipline, both of keeping fit and of learning, for many years now.  In this blog post, I reflect on that, including:

'Thus the discipline of getting out on my bike first thing every morning and cycling up the fells, come rain or shine, frees me in unexpected ways. At one level it is the obvious thing: being fitter makes me less prone to bugs, and being physically tired means I sleep well at night, free of insomnia. But it also frees me from rumination: I process a lot of thinking as I cycle.'

But, alas, my learning cycle is no more; but its legacy, in terms of the learning itself, will live on.

And I collect a new bike tomorrow (by which time I hope that they will have put the pedals on).

But what, asks Prodnose, has any of this to do with Kolb's Learning Cycle? to which I can only reply that such a question reflects a lack of abstract conceptualisation that shames him, before I hop on my bike and cycle off into the sunset...

Friday 11 February 2022

Interrupting myself

The Promise that Changes Everything is the title of Nancy Kline's latest book on the Thinking Environment; and that promise is "I won't interrupt you."

Listening without interruption is at the heart of this powerful approach to helping others to think in your presence, about which I have blogged many times.  Nonetheless, as I continue to study and practice the Thinking Environment, I continue to learn, and so, unapologetically, here is my latest thinking (or at least, some of it).

The context was a meeting of five of us, interested in this work, in which we had agreed to listen to each person think, without interruptions, for 45 minutes each.

So it was fascinating that at least three of the five of us interrupted our own thinking, and typically about half way through the time. One person said 'I'm done,' and stopped; but when asked what more he thought, (and thus assured of our continued interest and given permission to keep going) he thought more. And that was repeated a couple more times, until he had thought for 45 minutes.

The second person stopped halfway through, and asked someone else: "What do you think?" but again, when assured that we were still interested in what more he thought, he continued to think for the remainder of the 45 minutes.

And a third person said, after about twenty minutes, "I must be boring you by now"again, when assured that we were still interested in what more she thought, she also continued to think for the remainder of the 45 minutes.

All of which led to interesting discussions and reflections. One thing that we have frequently observed is that thinking comes in waves.  Thus when someone has completed a wave of thinking, he may well think that he is done; however, if given permission, an invitation, and a stimulus in the form of a question, there is often a second (and third and so on) wave of thinking that arises.  And that is often the newer, fresher thinking, too.

But the other thing, most explicit in the third case, but we all thought it was a factor in the other two, is that sense that people can't really be expected to listen to us for this long!  And that was even the case when we had a clear agreement that that was precisely what we were wanting to do.  We also reflected on the fact that whilst each thinker had feared that he or she might be boring the rest of us, each of the listeners had been completely fascinated by each thinker's journey.  And we all enjoyed the fact that each thinker reached some valuable places with their thinking.

So one of the dynamics is clearly that many of us are socialised into thinking we shouldn't go on too long or we will bore people. In many social contests, that is a useful thing to understand; but it was fascinating to experience how difficult that was to over-ride that, even when we had a clear contract around the time, and knew that each of us was going to get the same chance to think - and that in this context, going on was not boring. 

A final reflection was how this demonstrates why thinking with a thinking partner or listener is different from thinking on our own. On our own, we often interrupt ourselves or get distracted: with a thinking partner who is genuinely interested in where we may go next with our thinking, that doesn't happen so much.  And on our own, we may get to the end of a wave of thinking and think "I'm done." With a good thinking partner there, to sustain generative interest and ask a skilful invitational, and completely content-free question (such as 'What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?') we may discover that there are many more waves of thinking to enjoy, and that they take us somewhere completely unexpected, and often very valuable.


With thanks to Mimi Thian for sharing this photo on Unsplash