Think out-of-the-box, way above the ordinary


Think out-of-the-box, way above the ordinary

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” is an aphorism that provides hope for a man wanting to change things for the better. But, guidance on how to change his thinking is often lacking, and our educational system does not teach this at any point in the curricula.

The focus of this article is to provide an insight into the process of ‘impossible thinking’, which involves changing one’s thoughts away from the routine, average type of thinking. Such thinking alone can enable students to do impossible things.

Much of what we think is dependent on the perception of the world represented within  the mind. What we perceive as the ‘world’ outside is in fact a model of the world created inside our heads. What we think is what we see, and what we see directs our actions which, as a consequence, produce commensurate results.

All our actions can be classified into three categories: 1. Possible actions that we know can be done by us and we are confident of getting results; 2. Actions that we consider as impossible to do by us but are in reality quite possible for us if we take them up seriously and persistently, and 3. Impossible actions that can never be done by us in this life, no matter how hard we try. Thinking thoughts that consider the second category of actions is what we can call as impossible thinking.

The process of changing or transforming our thinking patterns is greatly determined by the underlying mental models or mindsets which comprise the internal world of neurons, synapses, neuro-chemicals, and complex electrical activity along with all the knowledge stored in the brain.

A good understanding of the power of mental models and the process of changing them is essential to transform our thinking which can indeed lead to all the transformations of our personal lives, our organisations and our society. Knowing our mental models and understanding how they affect us will help us in challenging the way we view the world and shape our vision and actions.

The roadmap for applying the practice of impossible thinking can be explained in terms of the five steps of improvement in any process as followed in six sigma methodology: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control (DMAIC). First, we have to define what change needs to be realised. As a second step of Measure, an assessment of the current mental models that we are using must be made. The potential power of our current models and the limitations must be assessed.

Next, an analysis of our mental models against the changing environment must be done to identify changes as required in the current mental models. After this step, we can generate new models and develop an integrated portfolio of models. This is the Improve stage in the DMAIC approach and is the most difficult step. We have to act quickly in order to transform the ‘world’ that we are concerned with and continually assess and improve our mental models by application and experi-mentation.

The last step of Control involves continual monitoring of changes that we are attempting and taking steps to ensure that a change that we have implemented is sustained. These steps need to be repeated as often as we desire a modifi-cation or improvement in the ‘world’ of our concern.

In order to practice impossible thinking and achieve results, we have to undergo a second kind of learning. The first kind of learning with which we are all familiar is aimed at deepening our knowledge within an existing mental model or discipline. This is the kind of learning provided in schools, colleges and other institutions for education.

The second and the new kind of learning involves studying new mental models and methods for shifting from one to another and developing the capability to create our own newer and relevant mental models. This learning does not deepen knowledge within the domain of specific models. It considers the world outside the current models and modifies the existing models and/ or adopts or develops new models to make better sense of the world and achieve desired results.

The process of impossible thinking involves zooming in and zooming out in terms of any situation in context. Zooming in is a thinking mode wherein we focus more intently on the details of the situation. Rigorous Analysis and Categorising & Prioritising are the two most common approaches to zooming in. The process of zooming out lets us look at the bigger picture and involves recognising the limits of our field of vision, avoiding cognitive fixation, under-standing our context, stepping out of the stream, using multiple approaches and collaborating with others.

Other methods for impossible thinking are sifting for sense from streams of complexity, willingly letting go of old ways of doing things, attempting to find common points for bridging disconnects between different mental models, and continually challenging our own thinking with reference to ourselves in relation to others.

It is thus imperative for students to learn willingly the process of impossible thinking and apply it in different situations in life that potentially provide an opportunity to achieve results beyond the field of view of average individuals and the scope of conventional activities.

Students desirous of developing impossible thinking ability are strongly encouraged to read the book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Wind and Crook, Wharton School Publishing, and practice the thinking methods given therein.

(The writer is an innovation and six sigma professional.)

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