Monthly Archives: March 2009

Tips for critical thinking

In this sound bite filled world, we are rarely given very much time to think critically about the information that we are presented with.

The media presents the message they want to in a 30 second snap shots and move on to the next story before you question the message. Written articles are little more than hidden agendas presented in small visual fields primed for mental grazing rather than serious contemplation.

Critical thinking is important to ensure you are not left thinking the same as everyone else and in the way that the media want you to.

If we all think the same, then no-one is actually thinking, just following everyone else. Here are a few tips to help you think critically:

  • Be informed – Read as much as you can on key subjects and read what different people think about those subjects. Having a variety of opinions to consider allows you to make a more informed decision about what YOU think.
  • Avoid making an early decisions – Allow yourself the time to consider and don’t pre-judge any situation or idea. Think ‘vu ja de’ not ‘de ja vu’. Look at everything as though you have never seen it before.
  • Be open to new ideas – Having a curious mind will allow you to ask questions more readily and be critical of those ideas read and hear.
  • Be honest with yourself – People have prejudices and biases, we all do. They allow us to make rapid decisions without the effort of thinking too much. Being aware of these prejudices and biases can help you be more open to alternative views.
  • Look for the truth value – Spin is endemic in the media. Look for the truth in the message and search for the reason a message is crafted in a particular way.
  • Find the facts hidden in the opinion – Facts are facts no matter which way you look at them, opinions are different views of those facts. Find the facts and develop your own opinion.

Although not a rigorous set of rules for critical thinking, applying these ideas can help you sort the information from the agenda. Even in this posting!

Dare to Aspire

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Eating the Big Fish: Adam Morgan

In Eating the Big Fish, Morgan explains how “challenger brands can compete against brand leaders.”

Morgan’s aims to provide a “magnetic compass” that will allow smaller companies (Small Fish) to compete successfully.

That is, how to become a “challenger brand”?

Morgan suggests that it is based on eight “credos”:

  1. Break with the immediate past – Forget everything you know and think again
  2. Build a lighthouse entity – Tell consumers what you are, don’t let them drive your activity
  3. Assume thought leadership of the category – Be the one that everyone talks about
  4. Create symbols of re-evaluation – Do things differently
  5. Sacrifice – Decide what you are not going to do
  6. Overcommit – Aim beyond the mark
  7. Use advertising and publicity as a high-leverage asset – Use it to enter the popular mindset
  8. Become ideas-centered rather than consumer-centered – Constantly reinvent to stay ahead of the trends and competition

Reading this book is worthwhile because:

  • It focuses on the practical things that can be done
  • It describes how to run a workshop and apply the thinking
  • Most of the credos can be used to overcome organisational inertia
  • It can help small marketing team do big things
  • It can also help brand leaders act like a challenger to become number one

After reading this book, ‘Small Fish’ are able to answer several critically important questions:

  • What is the core issue for the Big Fish?
  • What business are we in now?
  • What business should we be in? What are our best opportunities?
  • How can we implement a Challenger strategy to take full advantage of those opportunities?

Dare to Aspire

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Blink: Malcolm Gladwell

Blink is another interesting book from Gladwell.  In its pages he looks at the phenomenon of intuition and arrives at an interesting conclusion.

Intuition is not some psychic talent that arises from the depths of our mind.

It is the result of long hours of repetition and complete immersion in an environment, skill of behaviour that is constrained by particular rules and principles.

Harnessing the power of intuition can give you a distinct advantage in a world where flexibility is essential.  After reading this book, you’ll never think about thinking in the same way again.

The key points from the book include:

  • Knowing something in a split second is one of the most powerful skills we have.
  • A snap judgement can often prove more effective than a considered decision.
  • By focusing on narrow slices of experience we can read complex systems in the ‘Blink’ of an eye.
  • Thin slicing is Gladwell’s theory that the first 2 seconds of an encounter will determine how you will respond or the likely outcome.
  • For 80% of instances, a snapshot provides all the information that is needed.

Although Gladwell’s argument is well supported with expert experience and examples, the theory seems to only hold true when you are dealing with true experts.

Complete immersion in the environment or experience is essential for results of up to 80% accuracy.

The rest of us are probably less accurate with our intuition, but that doesn’t make it a poor tool, only something that needs to be supported by other evidence and consideration.

Dare to Aspire

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Simply Brilliant: Fergus O’Connell

Simply Brilliant is a simple book presenting simple ideas without being simplistic. It advises the reader to look for simple problems, simple solutions and direct approaches.

The general tenet is for you to be nice to people you work with, and to see problems from their point of view.

The key points from the book are:

–  The best ideas are often the most simple, don’t search for complexity

–  Smart people often fail to demonstrate common sense

O’Connell outlines 7 principles to deal with everyday problems. These are:

1.  Many things are simple despite our need to make them complicated

2.  You need to know what you are trying to do

3.  There is always a sequence of events – join the dots in your mind to see the cause and effect

4.  Things don’t get done if people don’t do them

5.  Things rarely end up how you planned, so plan for the unexpected

6.  Things either are or they are not – Don’t fudge it to meet your expectation

7.  Look at things from the other person’s point of view

O’Connell structures the book as an informal manual. It covers:

–  How to plan

–  How to prioritise

–  How to complete projects

–  How to remember the customer’s needs

He suggests you write the minutes of a meeting in advance to know what you want to get out of it.

He also highlights the difference between the duration of a task and the time is takes to complete it.

Activity isn’t progress.

He outlines why things don’t get done – Confusion, Over-commitment, lack of knowledge or skill.

He also suggests that you plan your time assuming that there will be interruptions

The final point I think is most telling of people in general is that common sense isn’t all that common in reality.

A good little book that highlights the need to keep things simple in a complicated world.

Dare to Aspire

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The Tipping Point: Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point is an excellent book that captures the imagination and presents a new view of why large scale events occur. It contains an analysis of the strategies people apply to influence and create significant change. Well worth reading and considering, perhaps with a view to applying the idea to your busines.

The key concepts from the book include:

  • Little things, changes and events can make a big difference.
  • A tipping point is the moment when an idea, social behaviour or trend crosses a point of no return and spreads in a viral fashion.
  • Epidemics start with a person, evolution begins with a single mutation and products and ideas can explode following minor changes.
  • Big results don’t always require big effort, a lever can make all the difference

The main reasons that something crosses the tipping point are:

  • The Law of the Few – A core number of people can drive a significant change when they are perceived as the correct messenger with the correct message using the most appropriate channel.
  • Stickiness – The message has to be worth taking action on
  • The Power of Context – Tipping points are subtle, highly dependent on time, place and circumstances.

Here are a few questions you may want to ask when considering how to apply this idea:

  • What message can you create that is sticky?
  • Who can spread this message for you?
  • How should they spread it?
  • Why is it worthy of being spread?
  • What is the best time, place and circumstance to start?

These questions clearly have a marketing flavour but the concept is transferrable to many areas including ideas, politics and even social events.

Flash mobs serve no obvious purpose but typify the idea of a tipping point.

A Mexican wave is another example.

How can you reach a tipping point?

Dare to Aspire

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Tips for Great Active Listening

You’ve probably heard the adage that in ‘having 2 ears and 1 mouth, we should listen twice as much as we speak’.

Although this is a fairly glib comment which rings of self development gurus or of life coaches, there is a practicality in listening that makes it an important practise for consultants, coaches and business people alike.

Firstly, you already know what is going on in your head,  so finding out what is in the heads of other people is probably going to be of interest.

Secondly, there is a level of rapport you gain for the act of listening. People will generally consider you a good conversationalist and a nice person if you listen to what they are saying.

Thirdly, as a consultant, coach or business person, you are more likely to be of more value to you customer if you fully understand their ideas, needs and concerns.

The best way to listen is not to be just attentive, or to be planning what to say next when it is your turn to speak, but to be truly active in your listening. Active listening is the process of applying effort and focus to really understanding what is being said and how it is being said.

There are a number of tips that can be used to improve your ability to listen actively:

• Keep an open mind – Minds are like parachutes, they only work when they’re open! When listening to someone, fight the need to have an argument or response ready. Be truly open to the ideas coming at you. Having an open mind means that the least you might gain is an understanding of the issues that concern the speaker and you might even gain a different perspective which is of value to you too.

• Maintain eye contact – You will demonstrate that you are fully engaged with the speaker. You can also use the eye accessing cues (an NLP technique) you see to help you understand the speaker at a deeper level.

• Watch your body language and that of your speaker – only 7 % of communication is carried in the words selected. 38% is from tone and a massive 55% is conveyed in body language. To miss this rich source of information is a wasted opportunity.

• Listen for key ideas and ensure you establish and understand the point fully. This is after all why you are listening.

• Ask questions – If you don’t understand the point fully, ask questions to gain understanding. If you understand the point, ask questions to show you are listening and extend and deepen the conversation.

• Para phrase and parrot phrase – by paraphrasing you can demonstrate your understanding, by parrot phrase or repeating the exact words, you can establish in the mind of the speaker that you truly are of the same mind. Using a speaker’s words lights up their neurology and they are naturally more engaged with you because of it.

Have these ideas in mind before you next sit and talk with someone. Using these tips will become habit and soon form a great new behavioural pattern that will lead to benefits in all of your conversations.

Dare to Aspire

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