“It’s all about thinking well!”

When I was trying to come up with a name for my business, I procrastinated, trying to find clever names – you know, ones with colours in and meaning and the right ‘energy’ and all that. I got so bogged down in it, and then a friend said – ‘Whats it all about? At the core? What do you want your business to do?’ (You’ve got to love a good question.)

My response was – its all about thinking well. To which she said ‘the thinking well!’. I was immediately sold.

Three years on and I am passionate about getting people thinking well. I’ve trained and qualified (certificate, yay!) as a Thinking Environment Consultant with Nancy Kline, and I love the work that I do. In case you are wondering – a Thinking Environment ‘person’ allows those around them to think for themselves, by being a way that encourages the best thinking possible. Attention is at the heart of it all.

Recently, as part of my ongoing development with Nancy and Time to Think, I was asked to describe what I wanted from my work with the Thinking Environment. My answer was that I wanted the Thinking Environment to be something that as leaders, as managers, as mothers, as sisters, as football coaches and as institutions we all just do, naturally and with ease. Create the space for thinking well all around us. Because when people can think for themselves they are free to do anything and they are energised by the possibilities.

Shorter term however, my aspirations for the Thinking Environment in the world would be that organisations begin to be places that encourage truly independent thinking – that leaders start to be Thinking Environments for their people so that it becomes a way of being in the world of work that allows us to be who we are at work, to bring our whole selves to bear on the problems we face and to solve those problems just so much more effectively.
Some simple ways to do this are:
  1. Listen longer than you usually would before you interrupt. Its amazing where people can get to on their own, and they will be more committed to decisions if they are THEIR decisions, not others advice
  2. Take turns in meetings through doing Rounds where no one interrupts and see how easeful your meetings become, and how those who don’t usually speak do
  3. Ask good questions – plan agenda questions for meetings, not agenda items.

As a step towards this, I’m running some courses this year. There are two courses – one is aimed at people who want to create Thinking Environments in groups and teams, helping people in meetings and group scenarios to improve thinking, decision making and communication. This is the Foundation Course, and is 2 days long. I will be holding these on 29th and 30th July, and the 8th and 9th October.

The second is the Thinking Partnership Course, which goes into a lot more depth on how to create a Thinking Environment for someone, one on one, and is the first step in learning how to coach and be a ‘Thinking Partner’. It is three days long, spread over one month, and will be on 2nd, 3rd September with the final day at the start of October TBC, and also on 4th and 5th November, with the final day at the start of December TBC.

If you are interested in taking part in any of these courses and creating Thinking Environments, give me a call. You won’t look back!

Why two heads are better than one

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at the start of Freebridge Housing Associations Annual Business Planning Day. Freebridge, and their partners, are doing some phenomenal work for the people in West Norfolk – creating communities and building opportunities. To my delight, they are using the Thinking Environment as a way of working together and spent the whole day on the topic of Diversity, which is one of ten of the Thinking Environments components, alongside others of equal importance such as Attention, Ease and Equality.

What I think is often completely overlooked when we think of Diversity is what is beneath the surface. That we are not all just (insert skin colour), (insert nationality), (insert class), (insert physical appearance). These classifications can be hugely misleading and don’t

in anyway encompass WHO we really are, more what. Yes, I’m British/Irish, I’m 30. I’m female. I’m tall. BORING! I like language. I enjoy sport. I read, but not as much as I’d like to. I socialise. I volunteer with a disabled charity. I work for myself. I love the sofa on a Sunday with a film. I eat curries. I live in the city but I love nature. I just bought a kitten (from the RSPCA). Better?

What has also ruined our perspective of the reality that is diversity is that diversity is often blamed for atrocious things – discrimination, ill treatment, even wars and genocide – we’ve begun to ignore it or worse pretend its not real. When it is so potentially….potent.

What we experience as we grow up (in fact from about 4 weeks in the womb!) impacts our brains in a powerful way. Each experience is stored and feeds into our future self – it’s how we make meaning of our world and survive. It creates a uniqueness in all of us that makes us as a planet so diverse – no one the same. Not even twins. There is no homogeneity.

This diversity creates so much potential when brains meet to think together and solve problems. Every time we are presented with a problem, our minds relate back to past experiences, searching for an answer. If we can harness the collective brain power, the experience and knowledge, of a diverse group we can achieve so much more. As the marvellous Nancy Kline so aptly says, “If we can think AS ourselves, we can think FOR ourselves”. The Thinking Environment - listening to one another, asking good questions and hearing from everyone – allows us to take full advantage of this precious commodity. It allows us to save our energy for thinking, not for hiding who we truly are. That’s what Freebridge brought to the table quite literally yesterday by holding all their table discussions in a Thinking Environment through the simple concept of using uninterrupted Rounds. This will undoubtedly yield better thinking. Businesses all over should take heed. How could an organisation of clones ever market its wares to the diversity of our world?

So its our experience which really create our diversity, not what rests on the surface. ‘What’ you are will in many ways dictate your experiences but ‘who’ you are will have a far greater bearing. Who you choose as your friends. How you choose to spend your time. This is what shapes us and what will shape our future, and what should shape our organisations.

Simple is as simple does

I used to love a good route plan. Half an hours drive in London – checking the map, choosing a route, memorising the turns. The satisfaction of getting there hassle free, or the excitement / mild panic of knowing you’d gone wrong somewhere, parking up, looking at street signs around you and working out where you were and how to get where you need to be (again). Re-memorising. No blue dot, immediately locating you in a sea of streets. The modern day ‘you are here’ arrow, connecting you seamlessly to where you need to be. Giving you alternative routes, timings and to the second traffic updates. (And that’s all just on your phone – it doesn’t even include the almost redundant tom tom)

I had an argument / discussion with someone recently about some friends who, given a pivotal role in another friends life event, turned up 15mins late. I thought it unacceptable, because you know how long journeys will take these days. Google has mapped it. Its simple. No excuses. I am eternally guilty of arriving a tube station not knowing where the exact location of my destination is, and only finding the Red Pin minutes before my meeting. However I always leave ample time and check all possible travel routes and apps to get there on time. Especially when it really, really matters.

Sums, routes, recipes, memories, relationships – those are just some of the things that technology has simplified for us, made so straightforward that we don’t need to think or memorise. Ever. What impact will that have on our brains? Does it free up space for other thinking? Or does it slow down our processing and will our children, and their children, become hopeless self-navigators with bizarrely large thumbs, poor maths skills, short memories – unaware of the real world around them?

I don’t know, but its a bit terrifying. I know technology frees us in so many ways, and expands our world and the possibilities within it. But what do we forfeit in brain terms for this?

To err is human…..

So, I’m sitting on the train and the buffet cart is a few seats in front of me. A woman comes up and orders a cup of coffee. The server says that she is not allowed to purchase coffee if she is not in her seat, in case she spills it on her way back to her seat. And he doesn’t have any bags for her to carry it in.

Now, forgetting the general absurdity of this, here is another demonstration of where health and safety rules are massively damaging out ability to think and act for ourselves and learn from the outcomes of our decisions. Some of the most impressive inventions and scientific findings of our time have been thanks to errors. We need them to progress.

It’s due to people who are irresponsible and seek blame for their mistakes that these stupid rules exist, and government, business and East Coast Mainline alike try to make everything totally fool proof so they don’t get sued. I mean really, do McDonalds HAVE to tell you that your coffee cup contains hot liquid? Don’t you know that? (NB you shouldn’t be buying coffee from Maccy D’s anyway…)

Thinking for yourself is critical and we’re getting worse at it. The next time you screw something up, don’t look for the blame elsewhere. Man/woman up and learn the lesson. Be resilient.  If you don’t, you might just make the same mistake twice!

Ps if you already do this – awesome, keep it up and thank you!!