Saturday, November 01, 2014

All two wheel vehicles steer differently from 3 and 4 wheelers.  When a child moves from a tricycle with three wheels, to a bike with training wheels (4 wheels) to eventually having those training wheels removed (now down to 2), they will try and fail in the first instance to apply the steering technique that they’ve used up to this point.  On 4 wheels of course, you turn the steering wheel or handlebars in the direction you want to go.  Left to turn left, right for right. On a bike, you turn right by briefly applying pressure to the right handlebar, effectively pointing the front wheel to the left momentarily.  This action initiates the turn.  The bike leans over and the wheel and bike then turn into the corner.  It’s called counter-steering.  The child learns very quickly, if they want to stay upright and alive, that they must ignore the well-meaning advice of their parents to steer in the direction of the turn and, without realising what they’re doing, will figure out a way to counter-steer by themselves.  

To be perfectly truthful, this series should be named the ‘intuitive series’ rather than the ‘counterintuitive series’ because the ideas we’re going to explore for success and outperformance are entirely logical and if given two choices, your child-like, gut instinct would probably go with the one that actually works as opposed to the one that’s widely considered the best choice.  The problem is of course, that common sense is so overwhelmingly uncommon.  As popular author Malcolm Gladwell explores so eloquently and entertainingly in his book ‘Blink: the power of thinking without thinking’ spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones.  Gladwell draws on examples from science, advertising, sales, medicine and music to prove that, in an age of information overload, experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis, and in fact having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment.

The problem is not our true intuition, which may come from experience with similar situations, from an unconscious reading of a micro-expression flashing across someone’s face, from a deep, gut-level resonance with a  solution we see or hear, or a pure ‘flash of knowing’.

The problem is both the quantity and quality of information in our lives.  We’re well aware of the quantity issue.  We can feel paralysed by the sheer volume of books we should be reading, articles, blogs and traditional media.  We have a sore hip and have 53 explanations at our fingertips, each more dire than the last, before we even pick up the phone to the doctor. We have a strategic dilemma at work and there’s dozens of experts with opinions and insights on both the cause and solution.  

As the old, less than subtle saying goes, “opinions are like a*holes. Everybody’s got one”!  I’m always wary when writing a blog because quite frankly, I wonder in what way the world is going to benefit from another opinion.  Then again, some of the blogs in the upcoming series are based on books and articles that have blown my mind or at least made me question my traditional thinking, and I figure that’s worth sharing.

Which brings us to the issue of quality.  At the surface level there’s clearly a wide spectrum of depth of research and accuracy of information online.  The same could be said of ideas and solutions we hear from colleagues and industry experts.  

There’s a deeper concern however, that I’m going to name the ‘collective madness’.  A quick google search finds that I haven’t coined the phrase. Needless to say, just to prove the quantity point, there’s 9,300,000 results when I enter the phrase.  And just to prove the lack of in-depth research that goes in to some blogs some times, I’m just going to grab a quote from the fifth result on the first page, from Paul Coelho, whose writings I generally enjoy, which captures what I want to say perfectly.  “Collective madness is called sanity”.  Bingo!

See, the thing is, there are some core beliefs and ideas that are so deeply ingrained in us individually from birth, so widely propagated in the business community and mainstream media, and often so consistently handed down from generation to generation collectively, that we don’t even know they’re there, let alone stop to question them.  

Lynn Grabhorn, who’s written a couple of excellent books on the topic of ‘deliberate creation’ talks about our ‘universal’ and ‘personal’ beliefs.  The universal beliefs, clearly are those that are common to many such as “humans will always kill,” or “you have to work hard to get ahead.”  These are the ones we build our lives from.  Because they are so common, they are also extremely powerful, making them a major influence in our daily affairs.

The personal beliefs of course, are ours alone such as “I’m too fat,” or “I’m not handsome” or “I hate presenting” (*raises an eyebrow*. Call me. I can help with the last one).

I had a great experience on a week-long silent meditation retreat last year, on about the fourth day when my thinking had slowed down from the widely quoted typical 60,000 thoughts a day to maybe 60 thoughts an hour, where I was able to consciously observe each thought as it arose and wonder where it came from and why.  It was both frightening and liberating when I realised part way through this experience that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY THOUGHTS IS CONDITIONED. Whether deeply by someone I grew up with or a long since dead author whose words I’ve read or by indeed, simple collective thinking on mainstream topics, every single thought came from someone, somewhere or something I’ve interacted with in my lifetime, many of which I assume to be true when in fact every single one of which were, and are, questionable.  

It appears that Krishnamurti, the renowned 20th century speaker and writer on philosophical and spiritual subjects, agrees with me!!  “Because we, you and I, are conditioned, totally conditioned by our thinking, our mind is incapable of comprehending the 'whole' of which we do not know. All thinking is conditioned; thought, at whatever level you may place it, is conditioned. You do not want to admit that. You think there is a part within you which is not conditioned, which is above all the influences that bring about conditioning - the climatic, the religious, the social influences, the education, the memory, the experience. You think that something is beyond all conditioning, and that it is not the 'me'. But, when you think of that state which you say is unconditioned, that very thinking conditions, and also that thing which is beyond all conditioning is still conditioned if it is related to thought.”

For our purposes it’s probably unnecessary to include his follow-up to this quote, but it’s so powerful I’m going to add it.  “But when we know, when we are completely, totally aware that our whole thought is conditioned and there is no part of it unconditioned, then there is a possibility of finding out if there is anything beyond the mind, beyond the projections, beyond the fabrications of the mind. I think this is a very important point; if you can really go into this, if we can really, actually experience it as we talk, then there may be a real solution to all the innumerable problems that we may have, the chief of which is sorrow, pain - not only bodily pain, but the greater involvements of psychological pain, the inward struggle, the conflicts, the frustrations, the despair, the hope.”

The point therefore of this ‘counterintuitive series’ is to question some of the core beliefs we may have about how we can improve our performance, outcomes, success and happiness, and how we can go beyond some of the most commonly held ideas to find a more innate, realistic, truthful way, of counter-steering our way through our work and life challenges.

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