Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Did you brush your ideas today?

A few minutes spent watching TV or flipping through a magazine would convince anyone that looking good is one of the most important objectives in society! Ads for creams of all kinds, face washes, shampoos, razors, jewelery, clothes -- all evidence that we are firmly in the the midst of a 'lookist' age. If you don't 'look' it, you aren't it!

But as we groom our bodies, it might be a good idea to groom our minds as well! Failure to do this seems to have brought about (or perpetuated) the many difficulties we find ourselves in. For instance, as our education system (with around 5.7 million teachers and close to three hundred thousand education officials) rumbles on, and we strive to bring about a major improvement, this is one barrier that keeps springing up again and again. Our thinking tools have become either so dull or limited that at every stage of the transition presents huge challenges:
  • How can each stakeholder envisage the improvement desired in their own way (i.e., have their own vision)?
  • How can all involved begin to understand / conceptualize the massive shift involved?
  • Since improvement is helped by planned rather than a random set of actions, how to help each person plan better - which implies the ability to identify what is desired, what the gaps are, conjuring up a repertoire of 'solutions', weighing the different options to identify the ones that fit the situation best, and knowing the difference between sequencing and prioritizing!
And we haven't even come to the actual implementation yet... which involves actions such as teaching, mentoring, communicating, supervising, organizing and managing, monitoring, counselling, developing, recording and analyzing, assessing and evaluating -- all tasks that require a range of thinking skills. It comes almost as a shock to realize that different actions require different ways of thinking. That before you start thinking on something you need to ask yourself - which would the best way to think here? Much like a surgeon choosing the right tool at each stage of a complex operation. In fact, that is what our situation is tending to be - of a surgeon armed with only a kitchen knife and hence limited in terms of what she can do! In fact, if you don't 'think' it, you aren't it!

What can one do to begin overcoming this situation? A few suggestions to start with:

  • Make a list of all the key actions you perform
  • Identify the thinking skills or ways of thinking required (e.g. do you have to be more 'out of the box' and creative, or do you have to maintain a rigorous commitment to the given information and derive a logically valid inference).
  • Practice these skills
  • When undertaking new action, please choose the appropriate thinking tool you need to use
  • Finally, don't forget to brush your ideas! That is, do reflect on the ideas we use in the daily course of our work - have they become stale? or dusty or outdated? do we need to discard them and move on to different ideas?

So even as we become willing participants in the 'lookist' age, here's hoping that more and more of us will also  create our own 'thinkist' age!