Boosting your mental agility and critical thinking

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Mary Lippitt.

Large amounts of data and rapid change increase the need to think critically and adjust to new realities.

Will Rogers reminds us that “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” While stagnation is dangerous, finding the path forward can be challenging. Mental agility, situational awareness and sound judgment are essential to addressing probable, pervasive and problematic change.

The rapid rate of change has led CEOs to identify critical thinking, judgment and innovation as essential to their future success. In today’s complex world, no individual has all the answers, but a person can ask the right questions and evaluate responses.

Mental agility -- the ability to recognize what has happened, what is currently happening and what could happen in the future -- requires an open, inquisitive mind. And that openness must be combined with a critical analysis of all relevant information to discern how to leverage opportunities in the short and long term. Mental agility and critical thinking close the ubiquitous gap between what we think we know and what we need to know. They prevent missteps and blunders.

Mental agility and critical thinking do not require an elevated IQ, advanced degree, lofty position or specific personal style. They do require a dedicated willingness to:

  • Test existing assumptions that may have changed based on dynamic environments
  • Check for potential distortions or bias, including level of effort and confirmation bias
  • Solicit and respect multiple points of view

Adopting an open mind means actively seeking information, considering alternatives, and selecting a viable and valuable goal. With multiple variables affecting any decision, a comprehensive framework is indispensable in collecting pertinent information. Knowing it all prevents risking it all.

Consider the purchase of a car. Decision factors include price, warranty, miles per gallon, cost of insurance, features, size, lease or purchase, color, style, type of gas required, cost of maintenance, towing capacity and dealer location. This list may appear lengthy, but compared with the factors involved in organizational success, it is quite small.

Organizations confront greater complexity and interdependencies than purchasing a car. One individual’s ability cannot juggle every aspect. Leaders need a system to gather timely, relevant information from multiple sources. Considering six situational mindsets ensures an effective grasp of reality. The following definitions and questions serve as a guide and can be tailored into a checklist for your organization:

  1. Inventing Situational Mindset questions concern innovative products, designs and services: What new features or services can we offer? How can we apply technology in a new way?
  2. Catalyzing Situational Mindset questions assess the level of customer service, market position and competition: What new markets can we explore? What will grow sales? How can we improve customer service?
  3. Developing Situational Mindset questions evaluate system effectiveness, information flow and seamless execution: What will improve cross-functional collaboration? Are our systems effective? What policy alterations will support our goals?
  4. Performing Situational Mindset questions examine quality, cycle time, workflow and return on investment: What deviations should we address? What can we improve? What limits our productivity?
  5. Protecting Situational Mindset questions address staffing levels, retention of key talent, succession planning and engagement: What will improve collaboration? How can we retain key talent? How can our culture become more agile?
  6. Challenging Situational Mindset questions probe trends, assumptions, strategies and opportunities: What new alliances are possible? What new niches should we pursue? What will position us for the future?

These situational mindsets surface what is present, what is within reach and what is around the corner. Their use builds the mental agility and critical thinking essential for organizations to achieve their goals in the midst of change.

 

Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd., an international firm helping leaders deliver results. A leader in the field of organizational effectiveness, she has assisted corporate and government clients in the US and abroad, including Lockheed Martin, Marriott, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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