Populations shift, technology impacts, integrity of creatures’ habitats are challenged. Do non-state actors, such as Amazon and Facebook, threaten the basic communities we have cobbled together? Much research and news reporting indicate that we are being treated more like machines than as human beings. Robotics and algorithms are their creators’ darlings bleeding our uniquenesses away while proper rest and “living wage” evaporate. Dreaming is essential before we can possibly reach our positive potentials.
Algorithms pigeon-hole us. If I get fed another ad of a particular company I checked on in a key word search, it will be definitely too soon. Do you know where your telephone book is for the Yellow Pages? Isn’t it better to use a few precious seconds more to flip pages manually and have the opportunity to find something you previously didn’t know was available?
Too much struggle with things that were supposed to simplify our lives! Our sense of fully living is eroded, bit by conditioned bit. Too much noise and light pollution actually dulls our ability to sleep, dream, and ultimately to understand. Many of us have not even seen the gloriousness of the Milky Way of our own galaxy. Oh, to hear the leaves rustle in the wind instead of urban traffic outside my window! To hear a song bird…
The Walking Dead?
We are the walking dead and do not know it. Dead to being analytical to see the message behind the packaging. We need to dream again. Dreaming organizes the clutter in the brain that had accumulated while awake. We exist in a minefield of potential errors. We do not question the veracity of emotional outbursts. It is true someone spoke. It may not be accurate as to what that person stated.
Not to fear. Life is full of ambiguities with incomplete information arriving by drip after sporadic drip. No wonder the career of the confidence artist never really dies since we are accustomed to living with unsolved puzzles and the need to be liked: “Of course I trust you.” Tricksters are found in all parts of life, and all manner of people fall for them. We need to think about thinking, about metacognition to climb out of the enclosure of my-side bias/cognitive bias and the pit-fall of groupthink. What do you think, believe? How might you test your opinions? Question the conventional wisdom of your people-group. What could be alternatively true? There is meaning behind ritual, for example. How might its meaning be renewed?
We cannot take this journey alone. Good communication takes a step by step approach for the listener to be able to understand. As we each share with one another, meaningful discussion arises, the idea may be modified, adopted or flat out redirected to something more accurate. Rely on your intuition as the important starting point to your thinking journey, not the end point. The world has become a complex place. Collaboration of information from various sources and group activity are necessary to gain equilibrium and new answers to emerging problems. As the saying goes, we don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps what we need to ask is “what is there to know?” to branch out of stuck thinking.
In the middle of this laudable goal, there are tips to avoid misdirection, being swept away with social media and succumbing to “fake news” issues. Avoid rudimentary evasive and occasionally deceptive information that comes your way, and avoid the temptation to deliver the same. A mutual exchange of information, particularly face to face, can strip away my-side biases. We then can learn and grow from external input that lead us towards better understanding and creative solutions. It becomes interesting when there are divergent points of view which may conflict. It is the stepping stone to greater understanding, to quality thinking and quality interactions with quality outcomes.
Instead of defining yourself by your belief systems that you take for granted, listen to others who are not walking in your moccasins (as it were). Listen. Check your self-lauded ideals and opinions. Check theirs! Where do you diverge? What explanations do you have? If the explanation were a cup of water, would you be able to drink from it or would it leak like a sieve? This is the start of a systematic way of challenging your own assumptions, not just those of others.
My-side, Your-side, Our-side
However, there are more organized ways to deliver ourselves from my-side biases (heuristics) wedded to an over-inflated belief in one’s intuition. You may be correct or partially correct. It is best to adapt than to identify with error and make mistakes because that embraced error becomes part of your life journey. How is your mental mindset? Do you have an inquiring and active mind? It certainly makes life more fun. A librarian may help you find the books you need to represent substantial expertise on the topic of interest. Be amazed at what you didn’t know! You gain ways to express yourself that you didn’t have before, whether the readings confirm or deny your initial assumptions. It can be a poor substitute for working in a diverse group for answers, but digging in on expert writings does a person good and enhances communication skills with clearer insights.
If we do not understand other cultures and how they interpret events, we are at serious risk of neither understanding them nor appreciating their contribution to the mosaic of life. Clear thinking is preferable to muddled thoughts. It is a laudable goal to seek qualitative reasoning in collaboration with people in various walks of life and from various places.
Get those jumbled thoughts out on paper. Is there a start and finish to this line of reasoning? With each part of the issue, rank it and see how it interrelates or links to other aspects of the matter at hand. For cooking one would need a list of items discovered not to be available in the kitchen. Review the protocols for handling raw meat, for washing your food under the tap after buying it. The various aspects of the task grows as one proceeds with food preparation and the cooking process. How do you organize to have all the dishes ready for the table at the same time? This example gives a hint to how complex an issue can be.
An opinion or attitude needs to be examined by studying each layer of the onion (issue) one layer at a time. The sulphur attached to the scent molecules help make the scents stronger to our olfactory membranes. This is a separate issue to taste. Often our emotional biases mix up our observations such as smell versus taste. Observing our faulty leaps of assessment help us slow down a little and think about what is triggering your reactions. Some people prepare onions in water to avoid tearing. They can then enjoy the onion stress free in their food. They analyzed the problem and found an inclusive solution.
Ask yourself whether your stance on an issue is a random idea or a provable piece of information. What is its relevance? Critical thinking puts you on a surer footing in the days and years to come. What is the real issue or question?Are pieces of information designed to misdirect you? Check your facts. Could fear be the underlying motive for misinformation or is there another purpose? What might be the core issue that needs addressing?
Why is the issue important? What need does it reveal? Is it book worthy to spend countless hours of research, study and writing? Do you have something worthy to convey that you have not seen discussed anywhere else? Who are the target audience? Will it meet current needs? In what format do they prefer to be addressed? What added value and unique insights can you give the conversation?
Have you checked on others who do not hold your view? What did you learn? Weave it in to the book while critiquing the effective point of views that were different from yours and explain where you differ and why.
Always write to your main audience. What method would they prefer? A graphic novel? A business report? Or a one to two page summary to a political leader (since leaders are super busy)? Will you need different editions to cater to the needs of various audiences? What responsibilities do each of the audiences have regarding your main theme? In so doing, the probability of avoiding the my-side mind trap increases.
There are more positive possibilities available to us than we have dreamt or imagined. In particular, experts have worked so long and hard developing their mental model (mindset), know so much about an issue or topic, that they miss the incrementally changing situation when they have arrived at final consensus. The ship had sailed, leaving their consensus judgement relevant only to history. The ramifications of change in the world were neither noticed nor deemed relevant to the analyses. The future is not stagnant, a rewind of the past.
How do we get out of that mental loop? Practice perceiving issues from various perspectives. What we have experienced in the past helps shape our intuition, but intuition does not encompass everything, does not show incremental change patterns. Challenge conventional wisdom. As the saying goes, we cannot see the forest for the trees. A forest has many inhabitants, six-legged, four-legged, two-legged, wings, no wings, fauna, streams and so on. We learn much more when we become acquainted with their perspective and that of others. What have we missed out on? The general consensus may be the correct one, but by exploring the unexplored we understand more fully and can make our own incremental/giant leap into factoring in the previously unknown. That is where dream sleep comes in to process these changes.
Dare to dream. Dare to live the dream.
Let us say one out of four times you might be wrong. The terms possible, probable, likely or unlikely would give your perceptions permission to spot that which you may have overlooked, to ruminate over, sleep on and be able to look at an issue with a fresher perspective.
To become wise, we need to be able and willing to change our frame of reference by redefining the problem. The brain can handle it. So can your mind. You can get out of your mental ruts and habits that keep you from seeing the situation from a different perspective. Start by reframing the question, task or problem to activate different synapses in the brain. New insight is around the proverbial corner as you bring to light the suppressed view. Working this out with a small group facilitates breaking out of our narrow perspective. Other people’s insights teach us more about life.
Imagine you have traversed to the future. Your suppositions were wrong after all. Enlist the small group to imagine what might have happened to reveal this different outcome. What contributing factors did you not consider before? You have problems before your mind’s eye that you had not considered before. Not knowing for certain what may happen or what you thought was true is a measure of wisdom. Being an insufferable know-it-all could be many things: wanting to be relied upon as the answer person; your exposure to other experiences not your own is poor so your my-side bias stems from lack of understanding; you fear retaliation if you do not present as strong….
Allow your dream state to ask “What if?” to what seems to be unthinkable. Test a hypothesis regarding the future by imagining a plausible alternative future. Seeking alternatives to an inflated confidence in one’s own plans and decisions resides in the sphere of Premortem Analysis which legitimizes descent and is akin to Structured Self-Critique. These concepts are meant to get you out of your comfort zone and think beyond the habitual routine way.
It is an important part of growth to humbly inspect your own assertions for weaknesses and to welcome others to do the same. In turn, their assumptions are examined and a clearer view of future possibilities are more than one had supposed. The principle is applied to many projects and decisions to be made.
Janet McDonald, GSP Inc.
To read more about Premortem Analysis and Structured Self-Critique see Richards J. Heur Jr., and Randolph H. Pherson, Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysts. Foreword by John McLaughlin. Second Edition (Los Angeles: CQ Press, imprint of SAGE, 2015).