August 8, 2013
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
If leading, first and foremost, requires clarity of thought about what’s going on and what we need to do about it, how do we make people better thinkers? Slower in their natural inclinations toward snap judgments that may be wrong or incomplete? More aware of the evidence that underpins their conclusions? More open to soliciting essential information from others and flexible in responding to it?
A colleague’s recent book, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking (by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird), gave me a great idea. Subject yourself to the “How Do I Know?” test.
Simply stop when asserting a position and ask yourself the question “how do I know that?” If you can, take a few minutes to jot down your answers to questions like, What evidence am I using? What’s the source of my opinion? How long have I held this belief? Look at what you’ve written. You may be surprised to find yourself on shakier ground than you expect.
Try the “How Do I Know?” test regularly and often – make it a fun game for a few weeks to develop a new habit of the mind. Try it in the quiet of your home. While out shopping. When listening to the evening news. Use the “How do I know?” question to stimulate interesting conversation with friends or to determine subjects you want to learn more about.
Becoming a more mindful and deeper thinker is a first step in developing capacities essential for leadership success.
Want to take the exercise one step further? Try it in the midst of a disagreement with another. Take a break in the action and ask yourself, “How do I know what I’m so strongly defending?” Get riskier: ask and answer the question publically, and ask your partner in disagreement to talk about the same.
“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you do know that ain’t so.” Will Rogers or Mark Twain or someone else (Burger and Starbird, p.38)