Innovation is born of new perspectives; of fertilizing one way of thinking with another. Organizationally this happens when different people, who have different information, come together and use what they know in new ways to serve common goals. Individually this happens when each person understands, and goes beyond, the limits of their own thinking.
This is not easy to do. One way to become aware of those limits is to interact with people who have different ideas and perceptions. Books, films and classes may also help push on the boundaries. Becoming immersed in a different culture, when possible, is one of the best ways to open a window on assumptions and habitual thought patterns that can affect personal and organizational progress.
Habits of thinking can get us in trouble. We rely on what social psychologist Daniel Kahneman metaphorically calls “fast thinking,” or System 1. Fast thinking is that set of essentially effortless mental activities and processes that allows us to make quick decisions, do things on automatic pilot and conserve energy while generally functioning well – except for those errors in judgment to which fast thinking is prone. Sometimes System 1 answers easier questions than what was asked. It also draws on what is familiar or available, rather than what is logical or probable, and it can’t be turned off. Most System 1 errors happen routinely; we don’t experience fast thinking as conscious choice. We don’t even know the errors are there.
Fortunately, we also have the ability to stop and take stock. Kahneman identified a second “thinking system” which he calls “slow thinking.” Slow thinking, or System 2, is that complex set of activities and processes that do more complicated things – like complex math problems, parallel parking and reflective thought. Slow thinking encompasses many different operations. All of them take effort. This means that while we identify ourselves more with System 2 competencies, we don’t use System 2 unless we have to. Yet slow thinking can override the automatic responses of fast thinking. It can help us avoid serious mistakes.
Slow thinking is indispensable in an environment where the solutions you arrive at today could be irrelevant by the time you can implement them. It ensures successful innovation and informs more effective cultural change by helping us recognize and go beyond the limits of our own thinking.
A Personal Application
I recently took a month to challenge my own habits of thinking; to reflect on language, culture, the business of diversity, the world we have entered and the planet we share. I’ve just returned from Ecuador. Viajé solo.
Ecuador is not just the Spanish-speaking country with the Galapagos claim to fame. It is a small nation with a turbulent history and great cultural, geographic and bio-diversity. Its political approach is also different. Ecuador has a surprising amount to teach about diversity, inclusion, equity and positive cultural change. In coming posts, I will write more about this.
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