Thursday, December 20, 2018

6 Reasons You’re Not Thinking Clearly


Guest post from Karen Martin:

Ambiguity has become the status quo in most of our organizations. And, it’s the enemy to efficiency, productivity, and a healthy bottom line.

Achieving clarity is the only way to defeat this enemy. But getting clear on everything, from why your organization exists and what its priorities are, to how people must operate based on their clearly defined role, requires time and effort.

Considering that it can take two people half a day to get clear on a question as trivial as what to eat for dinner, it’s no wonder that many feel that the complexity of the organizational environment makes clarity seem impossible. In addition to our current cluttered environment, habits and our psychological makeup can stand in the way of clear thinking.

Here are six traps to watch out for:

You’re in the dark. The first step in changing any habit is recognizing that you have it. This is harder than it seems with clarity since it lies in that middle of what’s being communicated and what’s being received. I might think an idea is perfectly clear but fail to get it across to you. You, in turn, may think you understand something but don’t. Communication and repeating back your understanding is key.

You lack curiosity. “Why?” is the most frequent question children ask and reflects our innate desire to know. But as we grow up, our curiosity is drummed out. This is a shame. Curiosity pushes us to try things people say we can’t accomplish or to differentiate between two options. Fortunately, organizations are filled with people with dormant curiosity waiting to be sparked. With a bit of coaxing and the cultivation of a welcoming culture, they can reinvigorate this curiosity where questions are both encouraged and rewarded.

You think you know it all. Many leaders think they know, but they don’t, and they aren’t going to ask. Their hubris gets in the way and keeps them from seeing the full picture. Fortunately, mindsets are malleable. People can overcome their hubris and adopt a growth mindset with reflection, coaching, and some work on the self. They can choose to let go of their belief that they know everything and start asking more curiosity-driven questions of more people.

You’re biased. Biases serve as filters for the brain. They sift through the thousands of pieces of information and let through only the ones they deem important. Biased decisions sometimes work out okay but leaders should beware of relying on their “instincts.” That’s because biases are unreliable by definition. My biases may be different from yours, and yours different from someone else. We are not all steering in the same direction if bias is driving us.

You pack the plate too full. Organizations give people at all levels far more to do on a given day than they can reasonably achieve. People often feel like they don’t have the time to stop, assess, and consider whether the actions they take by rote are the right ones. Few of us are in control of our time but those who are, or who can influence how time is spent by others, should invest in giving people a percentage of their time for assessments and problem solving.

You’re afraid. All of the psychological and behavioral obstacles to clarity share a common cause: fear. Fear comes in many forms and has many roots. Yet in most cases the fear people feel about seeking clarity in the workplace is based on incomplete thinking. The problem you are avoiding exists whether you seek clarity on it or not. Realize that the longer you wait, the worse the consequences of that problem can become—and the harder to fix.  
Achieving clarity is hard work—but it can be liberating, productive, efficient—and lucrative.


Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Her latest book, ClarityFirst, is her most provocative to date and diagnoses the ubiquitous business management and leadership problem―the lack of clarity―and outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational performance. 

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