Critical and Strategic Thinking Builds Agility

Leaders say they want to boost creativity, critical thinking and agility to improve performance and manage change. Research studies confirm the accuracy of those statements. Who wouldn’t want their staff to be quick on their feet, display ingenuity, offer critical insights, or make effective strategic choices? However, there is no consensus on how to boost agile thinking or increase brain capacity beyond the standard 10% utilization. The track record of using brain exercises, problem-solving techniques, brainstorm gatherings and reward programs indicate a failure to deliver.    

One hopeful option is the practice of integrating agility into everyday activities. Consider the impact of changing long-standing practices such as the standard staff meeting, which rarely engages the whole staff, or outlawing the practice of shooting ideas down before there is any chance to really explore the concept. Small changes can have big results. Conformity, habit, traditions, silos and robotic responses limit opportunities to see options and long-term implications.

Shifting our lens to form new perspectives, employing divergent thinking, asking questions, identifying patterns, connecting the dots, and attentive listening supports agile thinking. But these practices require a framework to increase confidence, employ broad analysis, and exercise nimble thinking.

The structure I use to ensure critical, strategic and agile thinking is the Success Mindsets template. It ensures a comprehensive data collection, careful scrutiny of that information and generating alternative paths. Using this framework prevents me from jumping to conclusions, relying on past solutions or remaining boxed-in by habit. It also forces me to review current conditions, assess what is possible and set my priority on what is probable.

The Success Mindsets focal points target organizational results, including (1) developing new products, (2) serving customers, (3) designing organizational systems and policies, (4) Improving quality and ROI, (5) engaging and retaining key talent, and (6) capturing new business opportunities. Having multiple focal points short circuits the stimulus-response mode to encourage full analysis before addressing complex and changing conditions.

The Success Mindsets Checklist and the Brilliant or Blunder Action Guide serve as primers to develop expertise in collecting and effectively using each Success Mindset. One exercise is to develop a solution from each of the six perspectives. Being able to shift points of view spurs agile thinking. Critical and strategic thinking is not a matter of IQ, motivation, or personal style. Instead, it is a decision to check assumptions, identify and weigh options, and deal with complex or novel issues with an open mind. To paraphrase a popular quote from Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that was used to create them.

We must shift our thinking, open our filters, confer with different points of view, generate creative solutions, reflect on alternatives, and select the best path forward. Agile thinking means a commitment to acting only after identifying what is possible, applicable, and valuable at this time.

This article was originally published on BizCatalyst360.com

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Changing the “Quick Fix” Leadership Mindset

By Mary Lippitt | August 6, 2012Organizational Development

 

In a complex world, speedy solutions rarely work. Unintended consequences, time lags, and interconnected systems whirled with risk and ramifications sidetrack easy solutions. There are no quick fixes and that leadership mindset needs to change.

Ralph Kilmann’s 1991 book, Beyond the Quick Fix: Managing Five Tracks to Organizational Success remains valid today–leaders need a new mindset that goes beyond simple response toward sustainable resolutions. In a rush to action, symptoms divert attention from root causes. Are today’s problems, issues, or opportunities really simple? Leaders should not be being playing the equivalent of speed tic-tac-toe where getting to any win first is the goal.

Acting is critical but it must be the right action at the right time in the right way for the right results. A quick overview, a readymade response or reverting to “what we have always done” cannot substitute for careful analysis, critical thinking, creative solutions, and integrated planning.

Dr. Paul Nutt in his 2002 book, Why Decisions Fail,reported that 80% of decisions are made without considering an alternative. While it is understandable that past success is alluring, the financial advisors caution that past success is not a guarantee of future success also holds true in other fields. Leaders do not need speed as much as they need accuracy and sustainability.

This means that the leader’s role as the person with “all” the answers must change. Instead of thinking that leadership equates to the fount of all knowledge, a leader’s real role is to ask penetrating questions. It is discovery, innovative and systems thinking, not the “tried and true,” that deliver lasting results.

The next time a binary choice is offered, recognize it as trap. Few situations in life have only two options. And many have learned to present one reasonable proposal paired with one that is unworkable. The apparent easy choice leads into the uncharted school of hard knocks territory.

Instead, allocate time to examining assumptions, identifying multiple options, and considering both the possible and improbable before making the decision. Speed is not the answer on the highway or in organizations. Remember it was the tortoise and not the hare that won the race. Take the time and involve the right resource to get it right the first time.

Is it time to change your leadership mindset?