Our Trained Minds
We are all guilty of our training. What I mean by this is that our past experience combines with the area of our expertise, and together they guide how our minds will consider problems and solutions. If we can be aware of this tendency we can free ourselves to think more creatively about problems and solutions. If not, our minds may not consider the problem in a manner that will lead to the optimal solution. In other words, the way you define the problem will limit the number of available solutions.
One of my clients is the owner of a small business, and during a recent Leadership retreat, he brought the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman to my attention. Kahneman is a psychologist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in Economics. In the book, Kahneman discusses his premise that the mind employs two different systems when it thinks—one fast and one slow. He explores the impact of how using one system to the exclusion of the other can dramatically shape the outcomes in corporate strategies, among other things. Each system has the capacity to shape our judgments and decisions. It’s for this reason that overlooking one—or favoring the other—can have a profound limiting impact on our outcomes without us even realizing it.
That evening the owner, his CFO, his President and I sat down for dinner as the discussion about Thinking, Fast and Slow continued. When his employees asked for further explanation about the concept of thinking fast and slow, he provided an example from the book in the form of a quick question.
“How many animals, by type, did Moses put on the ark?”
Both employees answered very quickly and almost at the same time.
The CFO immediately answered, “Two!”
The CEO said, “None – Moses was dead and gone long before Noah put the animals on the ark.”
The owner of the business then told us that most people don’t pay attention to the name being wrong because both Moses and Noah are similar in that they’re Biblical names. Instead they focus on getting the numerical answer correct. I found the example to be interesting on another level as well. My observation of the exchange between the three of them reminded me once again how much we’re all guilty of our training. The CFO focused on getting the number correct. The CEO didn’t because his Jesuit training didn’t allow him to confuse Moses with Noah.
Our Training Informs the Solutions We Can’t Consider
After years of experience working with leadership teams that are made up of trained subject matter experts, I have learned that sometimes when the leaders of organizations focus on a particular problem, their minds hone in on solutions that are in line with their experience or their training. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can limit the type and amount of potential solutions they will allow themselves to consider.
It’s important for us all to remember that how we define a problem determines the solutions we can’t consider.
Further, the types of solutions we will consider are usually limited to how our minds are accustomed to thinking.
Whether advising a CEO or facilitating a leadership team, it’s important for me to stay diligent about not only helping them solve their problems, but also to always be aware of how the problems are being defined. Fortunately, my experience has my mind trained to do just that.
I guess this means that I’m guilty of my own training just like everyone else. And there you have it.