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Make better choices: Outwit your thinking

SEP. 13, 2018

Raise your hand if you want to make better choices. My guess is that everyone wants to make better choices, whether in work or life in general.  One way to make better choices is to outwit your thinking. Outthink, outsmart or outfox are just different ways of suggesting thinking differently about things.

When it comes to thinking, we all bring various components that influence our mindset and how we process information to arrive at a decision.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindset as a mental attitude or inclination.1 It is made up of your background, life experiences and influences and its components include a person’s:

  • Assumptions
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Biases
  • Convictions
  • Unexamined perceptions of self, others, and the world

Overcoming unnecessary bias

Letting go of unnecessary biases can allow you to see opportunities that you would have missed.  A 2015 Harvard Business Review article challenged people to outsmart their biases by first understanding where biases come from.  For example, is it reliance on intuition, faulty reasoning, or both?2

One way to overcome faulty reasoning is to incorporate premortems into your decision-making process. In a postmortem, the goal is to understand the cause of a past failure. In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then examine and explain the cause.3 This is also known as prospective hindsight4 and it helps you identify potential challenges that ordinary foresight won’t surface.

For example, imagine it’s 2026, and you’ve lost one-third of your clients.  Why has that happened?  Part of the premortem process would be to ask yourself those difficult and challenging questions that don’t come naturally.

Using the above scenario, here are a few premortem questions to ask yourself to determine what caused the loss of clients.

  • What opportunities were ignored?
  • What problems were avoided?
  • What questions went unanswered?
  • What didn’t the consumer want to do?
  • What problem(s) caused the most pain for the consumer?
  • What problem or issue, that if handled, would have led to an improvement in the consumer’s life?

Challenge your thinking

The book Decisive provide a way to outthink your thinking by using the WRAP Process, which is based on four premises referred to as the four villains of decision making:5

  • Widen Your Options to avoid narrow framing.  Instead of thinking of options as either/or, consider both/and.
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions to avoid confirmation bias.  When you find yourself thinking one way, consider the opposite.  What is the other side of the issue?  Byron Katie offers a way to challenge your assumptions by asking yourself, “Is it true?  Is it really true?”6
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding to avoid short-term emotion.  Short-term emotions often lead to missed opportunities.  What other perspectives can you bring in?  What would another advisor say or do?  What would a client say?
  • Prepare to Be Wrong to prevent being overconfident about the future.  One way to do this is bookend the future where the lower bookend represents the worst-case scenario and the upper bookend represents the best-case scenario.  Then consider the many possibilities in between.

Develop an outward mindset

Thinking differently is easier when a person holds an outward mindset.  The Arbinger Institute (2016) addresses two concepts referred to as the inward and outward mindset.7   An inward mindset focuses on self-concern and personal benefits and an outward mindset focuses on the collective needs and benefits of others.  The Institute goes on to say that those who employ an outward mindset tend to display a pattern of behavior consisting of three steps.  They tend to:

1. Be aware of the challenges of others

2. Alter their actions to better assist others

3. Assess what is and isn’t working and make appropriate changes

Here are a few ways in which to develop an outward mindset:

  • Embrace Diversity – learn from ideas and the diversity of thought others bring.
  • Use Active listening – eye contact, facial expressions, acknowledging, and paraphrasing demonstrate active listening.
  • Ask Questions – open-ended, learner questions to drive the conversation.
  • Stay Curious – be observant and allow your curiosity to direct your questions.
  • Exercise Change agility – anticipate and adapt to change.

Over the next 30 days, challenge your thinking by asking yourself, what do I think I know, and how do I know it’s true?