How Do People In Business Today Need To Think To Catch Up, Keep Up and Get Ahead?

I was interviewed this week about the work I do in encouraging people in business to improve their results by improving the quality of their thinking.

Here is one question string I was asked:

Q –  In what ways does business today require higher levels of thinking? Why is it a necessity? What’s the risk if businesses don’t train their people to think at higher levels?

Here is my response:

Being slightly pedantic here, businesses can’t have higher levels of thinking, its people however can and must.

I think I might have made that statement about business on my site but as I reflect on your question, it would be correct to make that distinction about people in the context that we are discussing.

So what do I mean by “higher”?

Well it is really a relative term because there are individuals already thinking at “higher levels”, it is what separates the ultra-successful from the mediocre.

I am a huge fan of Brian Tracy and I think that his work from even 10 or 15 years ago hit the nail on the head about what “higher levels of thinking” really means.

Now this isn’t going to be sexy, it isn’t going to be ground breaking stuff but believe me I am convinced these fundamentals are the key thinking strategies required by today’s knowledge worker.

The first is having clarity.

The clarity of what is important to you right now; the clarity of your objectives; the clarity of your priorities and the clarity of your deadlines.

The second is decisiveness.

The biggest problem I see today (and I include myself in this as I am constantly having to work at this myself) is one of procrastination.

Although these days procrastination has morphed into distraction because of the many different stimuli we have.

Rich Shefren, an incredibly talented and successful businessman released report last year called the Attention Age Doctrine about how the biggest challenge facing businesses is attracting the attention of their clients and potential customers.

But that attention problem is also affecting knowledge workers.

With so much constant bombardment of data nuggets – e mails picked up on the pc in the office, e mails picked up on the laptop at home, e mails picked up on the Blackberry in the meeting, telephone calls, meetings, facebook messages to respond to, MySpace pages to update, Twitter updates to read, You Tube videos to watch, reports to read, documents to scan, papers to peruse, magazines to flick through – we are faced with the mother of all distraction problems.

Because it still seems like “work” whilst we are trawling through all of this input.

And so rather than deal with a chewy issue, it still seems productive to cast our attention on the latest “new” thing in our inbox, intray, message centre etc.

And so it is easier to put decisions off so that in the absence of making a decision, no decision is made.

And whilst it is “pending” a mistake has not been made (I won’t get into the fear of failure here you will be pleased to know!).

The third fundamental is that of discipline.

And this is the discipline of doing the most important thing and doing it until it is done.

Of course having clarity on your objectives and the decisiveness to choose what to do next provides the foundation for this fundamental.

And finally, the fourth fundamental is that of persistence – doing what needs to be done, overcoming the inevitable obstacles and finding ways around the blocks that will get in the way.

With these fundamentals in place it is far easier to deal with vast amounts of information and attention demands because “in or bin” decisions are simpler, “do or delay” choices almost make themselves and this makes dealing with today’s knowledge streams far more manageable.
And if we don’t raise our game…

Well in the past we had the term “paper shuffling” but that is probably an outdated term given the predominantly e nature of today’s communication environment.

So today’s term might be “junk mail juggling” because unless what you are dealing with is not key to your current objectives then it might as well be junk.

So organizations will have legions of staff whose sole achievement at the end of a day will be the rearrangement of billions of electrons without any real physical, tangible progress.

Another way of looking at the challenge of not raising the game of staff to think at this higher level is that of the growing problem of information overwhelm and subsequent overload.

Without the means to deal with this extremely common problem, people will struggle and then stress will set in (which is the #2 cause of work place absence according to a 2006 Institute of Directors Survey).

So not only will the individual’s performance be negatively affected (which ultimately will hit the bottom line), but corporate responsibility will burden organisations with compensation claims.