“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke
The single best way to improve your thinking is to start asking yourself questions about why you want to accomplish something, how you want to accomplish it, and what specifically it is you want to accomplish.
That being said, the operating word is “specifically”, because before we can ask “why” we usually have a vague or general idea of “what” we want to do. But we often go from the general to the concrete idea.
While it might seems like going in the reverse order of how we’re accustomed to doing it, if we can’t find the reason of why we’re doing something in the first place, the second and third question don’t even matter.
So now that we’ve got the basic principles down, what do we do when our strategy meets opposition?
- Listen. Not with the intent to convince other people, but to understand them. Why aren’t they on board? What are their concerns? Where do we share common ground? How can we help them accomplish their goals by helping us?
- Observe. While listening is great, people aren’t always open books about their wills, wants, needs, and intentions. That’s why we need to look at their actions.
- Act. The first two are passive and reactive approaches, their purpose is to gather information about the opposition. If they aren’t talking or acting then it’s a standoff. You can either accept this and wait it out or you can act. By acting you’re more or less forcing them to respond in some way. It’s like sending out a ping and waiting for the pong.
- Study. History, psychology, science, documentaries, videogames, philosophy, movies, TV, etc, can teach us a lot about behaviors and outcomes. This can prepare us for situations that we would not have experienced if all we had to go on was our own experiences. Look at what people did, then try to play out counterfactuals and “what if”-situations in your mind. How could it have turned out differently? What would you have done? Why would you have done it that way? Why did they behave in this way instead of that way? You don’t have to find the “right” answer. Just practice the art of seeking to understand.
- Adapt. When things inevitably go wrong or not according to plan you need to adapt and adjust. Trying to impose your will when it’s clearly not working is as stupid an idea as the captain going down with the ship. All the valuable lessons they could’ve taught to those who came after went lost, not to mention the lives it could’ve saved. Adapting does not mean quitting. It just means that if one approach isn’t getting you closer to your goal, try another.
- Grit. Now this might go against the previous one but they actually complement each other. You have to have the determination to go for what you want and be able to handle set backs and temporary defeat.
- Quit. Or rather, know when to quit. If you’ve got an idea that isn’t yet viable, or face opposition that you can’t overcome, right now, then quit. Don’t shred it to pieces and burn it, just put it aside and focus on things you actually can do right now. For example, if someone in the early 1900’s would’ve gotten the idea for smartphone technology it wouldn’t have been all that valuable to spend their life working on it since the technology required wasn’t yet available. What they might want to do is to record that idea in a book, journal, or article. Then, get working on things that are viable, and might help bring about that technology in the future.
If you want to improve your thinking here are a few books that I’ve found helpful:
“Outliers” & “The Tipping Point”– Malcolm Gladwell
“How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” — Michael J. Gelb
“Superforecasting” — Philip Tetlock & Dan Gardner
“Lateral Thinking” — Edward de Bono
“Smartcuts” — Shane Snow
“Mindset” — Carol Dweck
“The Black Swan” & “Antifragile” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Think Like A Freak” — Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
“Leadership BS” — Jeffrey Pfeffer
“Thinking, Fast And Slow” — Daniel Kahneman
“Red Team” — Micah Zenko
“But What If We’re Wrong” — Chuck Klosterman
“Thinking” — John Brockman
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