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PROFESSIONAL CORNER • Last updated November 4, 2017

Using critical intelligence for decision making and integrating creativity

The ability to make wise decisions consistently is the key to success. By systematically applying tested principles, you can improve your decisions, experience less wheel-spinning and be better able to explain the soundness of your decisions to others. In the decision making process we must not forget to think creatively.

John S Hammond, co author of Smart Business Choices: a Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, outlines his five step plan. Additional information is from Michael J. Gelb, founder of High Performance Leaning, and Edward de Bono, PhD, a leading authority on thinking and cognition.

While some decisions are too trivial to bother spending much time and energy on, those that have lasting consequences should involve organizing information into familiar patterns that can be analyzed and judged. The process should not stop there though. These familiar patterns should be used as a trigger for looking at new approaches and possibilities.

Define the problem. How you evaluate a problem and take it apart determines whether you identify the problem's central issues. Your whole decision-making process will be undermined if you work on the wrong issues.

Example: You think your problem is how to find more time to get your daily tasks done. So you decide to work late into the evening. But perhaps you should have concentrated on how to do the tasks more efficiently or focused on which tasks to eliminate.

Flexibility is very important in sharpening your definition of a problem. Don't be afraid to change the definition as you better understand your decision situation or as circumstances change.

Seeking the truth

The human mind works by organizing information into familiar patterns that can be used to trigger a course of action.

Example: Recognition of people's voices allows us to greet them. And...the recognition of patterns of printed words on a page enables us to read.

But much of this patterning depends on searching for the truth through critical thinking... analysis ..... .judgment.... .and criticism. In order to understand a problem or situation, most people analyze it and break it down into the small pieces that their brains can judge and criticize.

In other words, people use established thinking patterns and experiences to find the cause of problems. Then they react to fix them.

This form of thinking, called critical thinking, often produces flawed results. We prevent ourselves from thinking deeper to find solutions to problems for which there may be no easy answers.

Critical thinking locks us into limited solutions. Many businesses operate under the assumption that new ideas come only from analyzing existing information. Coupled with the attitude that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," this complacency prevents businesses from exploring the potential of new ideas.

Example: In the 1960s, American auto manufacturers began to make compact cars. Because car dealers complained that the smaller vehicles weren't producing large enough profits, car makers returned to full-size models. Then oil prices rose. But manufacturers' reluctance to go back to making smaller cars left the door open for Asian imports, which have since established a strong foothold in the compact-car market.

Exercise: Count the number of absolutes that you use in a day— words like always, never, certainly, no doubt about it, must. See what happens when you substitute words such as could and possibly. Or notice how often you end conversations with a statement. Experiment using questions instead.

Clarify your objectives. What do you want your decision to accomplish? What are your goals? Your needs? Clear, honest objectives will guide you in seeking information and evaluating alternatives.

To define your objectives, write down all the concerns you hope to address through your decision. At first, be creative rather than rigorous. Then narrow down the concerns and express each important one succinctly.

Separate the means from the ends. A common mistake is stating objectives in terms of means instead of digging for more fundamental underlying objectives.

Example: When my niece was house hunting, one other objectives was to find "a house that was less than three years old." There weren't many of those to choose from. Going beneath her initial objective, however, she realized that "a house in move-in condition" was what she really wanted. In shifting from the means ("less than three years old") to the end ("move-in condition"), she vastly expanded her options.

The way to get down to fundamental objectives is by asking yourself why.

Example: When planning a new distribution center, a company may list one objective as "to minimize construction time." If you ask why, you may find it is to get the new center operational as quickly needs? Clear, honest objectives will guide you in seeking information and evaluating alternatives.

To define your objectives, write down all the concerns you hope to address through your decision. At first, be creative rather than rigorous. Then narrow down the concerns and express each important one succinctly. Separate the means from the ends. A common mistake is stating objectives in terms of means instead of digging for more fundamental underlying objectives.

Create attractive and imaginative alternatives Probing your fundamental objectives may suggest additional possibilities that open the decision-making process. The decision you eventually make is only as good as the best alternative you present to yourself. So there is much to be gained from creating better alternatives.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), one of the most creative people who ever lived. He was an accomplished painter, sculptor, inventor, architect, botanist, engineer and physicist. He never stopped learning. His example can inspire and teach us how to think creatively, tap our potential to the fullest and lead well-balanced lives.

Be curious

As children, we were all relentlessly curious. Leonardo never stopped asking questions. This desire to find out why and how led him to a number of remarkable discoveries.

Design thinking

Though we cannot predict the future, we do know actions that are taken now will have consequences at some later point.

By continuously striving to discover what can be—rather than what is—we open the door to a realm of possibilities.

Unlike critical thinking, which only allows us to look for solutions to problems by searching through our many experiences, design thinking forces us to use new approaches.

Design thinking uses ideas, perceptions (the way we look at things and creativity (the search for alternatives) to come up with solutions we may never have considered.

We rarely look for alternative ways of performing tasks or solving problems when there is no immediate need to do so. But—when you acknowledge that the best solutions may exist outside of what you know now, you will begin to think about the possibilities.

Exercise: The next time you are faced with a problem, ask yourself, "Why are things done this way?" When you come up with an answer, ask yourself "Why?" again. Continue this process until you have considered a few new solutions.

Example: Why do employee have to meet every Monday? Because that's the start of the week. Why is the good for employees? Because it starts their week out right.

By continuing with the "why again sequence, you may discover that Monday meetings are not the most economical or efficient use of employees' time and that meeting Friday afternoons makes much more sense.

Key: Think about all the factor that "shape" a concept or rule. Then systematically challenge these factors-even if they appear to be sensible and fully justified. Important: Omit "either/or polarizations in your challenges, such a "Either we do this. . .or we do that." Instead, consider how an existing concept may be limiting...or if then are any issues that are being avoided by continuing a certain practice.

Exercise: Provoke your mind with outrageous ideas to find new solutions.

Example: Consider the statement "Airplanes can land upside down." We all know that airplanes land right-side up. But this sentence deliberately reverses the norm and provokes new ideas. After you've laughed to yourself am said that airplanes do not and cannot land up side down, you may find yourself in new territory. You may find yourself wondering "What if the pilot's windshield were at the( bottom of the passenger plane's nose, not a the very top? Could the pilot get a better view for landing?" This may lead you to consider where pilots actually sit in airplanes.

Exercise: Keep a journal. Record your observations, ideas and questions in a notebook—as Leonardo did. Don't focus on goals or results. Just let your thoughts flow and see where they lead. These observations may later help you separate the means from the end.

Think for yourself

Leonardo called himself a disciple of experience. He meant that instead of accepting the authority of others, he tested things directly.

Example: To learn about anatomy, he didn't just read a book on the subject, he dissected 30 bodies.

Leonardo wasn't afraid to make mistakes. He once tried painting in oil directly on a stone wall and tried using heat to solidify the image. The paint melted, and his fine artwork was destroyed. But that didn't stop him from trying new techniques.

Exercise : Write down three of your beliefs—about human nature, politics, etc.—in your journal. Then make a case for the opposite belief.

This will get you to examine your views from multiple perspectives... so that you don't just base them on your conditioning or on someone else's authority.

Exercise : Write a stream-of-consciousness response to the question, "What would I do differently if I wasn't afraid of making mistakes?" Take 10 minutes or so.

Sharpen your senses

Not only did Leonardo have amazing powers of sight and hearing, he surrounded himself with sensual stimulation. His studio was perfumed with lavender and rose water. He hired musicians to play while he worked. And he enjoyed wearing velvet and silk—the finest, most sensual fabrics he could afford.

He lamented, "People look without seeing, hear without listening, eat without awareness of taste, touch without feeling and talk without thinking."

Common mistakes when exploring creative options: Repeating what you did in the past..... making small changes that don't really make much difference. . .going with the first alternative that comes to mind....choosing among options presented by others rather than coming up with some of your own.

Generate new alternatives by taking a fresh look at each objective and asking how it can be achieved. How can you minimize costs of a new program at work? Get your child a good education? Find a vacation spot that is both relaxing and interesting?

You may fall back on the tried and true, but you may also find something new—and much, much better.

Envision the consequences. If you haven't thought out the consequences—how you'll fare with each alternative—before you make a major decision, you may not be happy with what you end up with.

Imagine yourself in the future, living with each alternative. Then write a free-form description of the consequences, as precisely as possible.

Some alternatives may seem clearly inferior at this point. Eliminate them. Organize descriptions of the remaining alternatives into a consequences table that enables you to compare them easily.

Example: You're choosing among several job offers. List them across the top of a page. Then list the important objectives —salary, location, vacation time, job satisfaction, job security, etc.—along the side. Fill in the chart with judgments and data about how each potential job measures up.

Analyze trade-offs. Making a decision is difficult when one alternative best meets one objective but another is superior in other ways.

Example: Job A offers a higher salary, but Job B is more interesting.. .and Job C has more security and better benefits. You have to trade off advantages and disadvantages to find the best overall choice. Use the "even swap" method—a kind of bartering system to play alternatives against each other. If the $200-a-month salary advantage of Job A is counterbalanced by the better promotion prospects of Job B, you can eliminate "salary" and "advancement" and base your choice between Jobs A and B on other grounds, such as satisfaction and benefits.

Balance logic and imagination

Leonardo was not only the greatest artist of his day but also the most accomplished scientific thinker. He said that he studied "the science of art and the art of science."

He was a living example of what we have come to call "whole-brain thinking"—in which the brain's left and right sides function at their highest possible capacity.

Exercise : Try mind mapping. This technique helps you tap into the verbal and spatial centers of your brain in problem-solving. Pick a problem or topic, such as how to spend your next day off. In the center of a blank piece of paper, draw a picture that represents the essence of what you would like to do that day. It could be as simple as a flower or the sun. Draw lines radiating out from this picture, and write down words that come into your mind—one per line. Don't try to organize your thoughts— just let them flow. Now draw new lines branching off the existing lines, with a key word for each new line. Continue drawing branches and key words until you feel satisfied that you have solved your problem.

Make connections

Leonardo looked for links among seemingly unrelated phenomena. He sought parallels between flight and swimming... between the way hair grows and how muscles are formed ...among wind, water flow and the way sound travels through the air. The patterns he found contributed to early scientific understanding as well as to the beauty of his art.

Exercise : Reflect on the origins of something from your everyday life. It could be your computer, clothes you're wearing, a book, the food you're about to eat. Reflect on its origins.

Think about all the elements, actions and people that went into creating it. Reflect on Leonardo's statement that "everything is connected to everything else." This will help you develop a fine sense of appreciation for creativity and the hard work that goes into the process. This exercise can be part of your journal writing.

Intelligent decisions aren't solely the result of what we've read and what we've experienced. To be a real thinker, you need to go beyond skillful analysis and judgment, which tell you "what," and integrate creativity and design into your problem-solving process so that you understand "what can be."

As you can see, the key to unlocking creative thought and designing new opportunities is mental movement. Creative people realize that reality is complex—and interesting.

The more Leonardo probed to find truth and beauty, the more questions he raised. His masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is a wonderful example of the beauty to be found in ambiguity. Mona Lisa's smile suggests that she is holding many different truths in mind at the same time and enjoying the paradox.

Don't wait for inspiration to create new opportunities. Break free of constraining thought patterns and focus on moving to new approaches to ideas or problems.

Take the time to pause and pay deliberate attention to your thoughts. From these creative pauses come the points of value that are contained in a simple germ of an idea.

Bottom Line, July 1, 1998 Edward de Bono Tells How to Use Your Critical Intelligence foe Much Better Solutions
Bottom Line, January 1, 1999 Michael J. Gelb, High Performance Learning, Lessons in Thinking from the Inspiring Leonardo da Vinci
Bottom Line, November 1, 1998 John S. Hammond, John S Hammond & Associates, The Sound Judgement Improvement System,
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Last modified: November 4, 2017