My Elastic Mind is Getting Stiffer

by Ron Potter

I’ve mentioned many times that Shane Parrish of Farnam Street is the blogger I read most consistently.  He was very instrumental in getting me started with blogging.

One recent article he wrote was titled, Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World.

His opening paragraph says,

The less rigid we are in our thinking, the more open-minded, creative, and innovative we become.

As we’ve been focused on our rapidly changing world in our last few blogs, things are changing fast as we look for and understand the new normal.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song.

Elastic Thinking

Share refers to a book by Leonard Mlodinow, Elastic,  in which Mlodinow explains elastic thinking as:

  • the capacity to let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction
  • the capability to rise above conventional mind-sets and to reframe the questions we ask
  • the ability to abandon our ingrained assumptions and open ourselves to new paradigms
  • the propensity to rely on imagination as much as on logic and to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas
  • and the willingness to experiment and be tolerant of failure

Let Go of Comfortable Ideas

Like our bodies, our brains are lazy.  It’s much easier and less taxing if we just stick with comfortable ideas rather than contemplate new ideas or new approaches.  I think this is one reason that this new virtual world we find ourselves facing is so taxing.  We’re getting warn down just because of meeting virtually rather than in person.  See my post on Zoom Fatigue from May 13, 2021.

Reframe the Question

One of the greatest assets I’ve observed in business is the ability to reframe questions.  One of the best books on this topic is A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger.  This has always been a great asset and I have found it at the root of the more innovative companies.  But in this rapidly changing environment, we find ourselves in today, I believe it is essential.  If you’re still framing questions based on the old “normal” you will find yourself quickly losing ground and even your footing.

Abandon Ingrained Assumptions

I think of this one as being slightly different than the reframing questions above.  Assumptions get us in trouble.  One of my early mentors used to say: Assume makes an ass of u and me.  Don’t assume.  I believe that avoiding assuming requires listening to understand.  If we’re really trying to understand another person, we must listen with the intent to understand.  If we’re not doing that, we’re assuming we know the answer or we know what is right.  Assume and make an ass of u and me!

Balance Imagination and Logic

I find very few leadership teams that are good at this.  Although the word imagination is used, I’m going to change it slightly to emotion.  I believe it is essential to balance emotion and logic to make the best decisions.  Many leaders and leadership teams believe that all decisions should be logical.  “Fifth Avenue” figured out long ago that we make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with logic.  I’ve told this story before but I believe it’s worth repeating here.  Years ago while my wife and I were in a Chevrolet dealership waiting for a very practical and inexpensive sedan to be brought upfront for a test drive, the salesperson and I were drooling over a Corvette convertible.  Pretty soon my wife said, “I see no logical reason to buy a Corvette”.  Both the salesperson and I looked at her in complete disbelief.  Finally, I said, “No Corvette was ever sold based on logic.”  All decisions are made based on emotion and then justified based on logic.

Tolerate Failure

It’s not easy to tolerate failure.  Especially when it’s your own.  We are often afraid to admit failure because we believe that people will think less of us or we’ll lose the power to lead.  But I have found it to be quite the opposite.  As long as we’re honest and straightforward with admitting our failures, we actually become better leaders.  People like following people who are human.

Frozen Thoughts

Mlodinow talks about “frozen thoughts” as being the opposite of having an elastic mind.  Don’t let your thoughts become frozen.  As Dylan says, “For the times they are a-changin”.  I believe we’re in one of those mega shifts where things are moving and changing so fast we can’t even figure out the new normal yet.  You’ll never make it with frozen thoughts.

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