Thinking aloud or stealing the show?


I blew it. I broke my first rule and failed to control my ego.

Not sure what the lovely woman I met at my 35th graduate school class reunion felt, but I’m certain she hadn’t expected the slight and unfiltered commentary that poured out of my mouth.

In my haste to catch up with my classmates, I spotted one across the room standing in a small circle.  Had I interrupted an earlier conversation? I’m guessing that’s why this stranger to me raised the topic, that brought out my less admirable qualities.

This very poised and polished woman expressed her enthusiasm for a storytelling webinar she had heard.  Coincidentally, I too had participated in the same webinar.

The mistake was my response to her comments in which I undid any credibility I hoped or once had.  I blundered in,  may have even tossed my head and rolled my eyes expressing annoyance.  of course, I can’t really explain what happened or why.  For example, I’m guessing that I behaved and acted badly to someone’s eagerness to “learn” how to tell stories–the most natural of human behaviors.

Now in the quiet of my home, the emotions calm, the memory distant, the source of my annoyance is clearer to me.

I’ll admit, I’m lazy when it comes to learning. It’s considerably less work, requires less effort when I ask someone else to tell me the key ideas that will make me successful.

It’s probably why I had bothered to sign up for the storytelling webinar IDEO offered.  And it’s probably why I was so bothered that IDEO had attracted an even wider audience of participants.

When we ask someone else to give us the gist or spare us from sifting, sorting and working out what’s important, we take the magic beans approach to learning. i-072

The magic beans reference is to a fairy tale in which Jack, the main character, is framed as a fool.  Why would I mention a fool’s tale?

Don’t worry if you don’t recall the fairy tale, because the story is only a device to help you remember the message.  I assume, like me, you too take pride in what you know.

Take a moment. Think about the effort, time and attempts you spend acquiring knowledge that pleases you and makes you proud.

By chance, if you’ve got a recorder nearby play along for a moment. Or open the audio or video application on your phone and hit record.

“Repeat after me.”

“Do what I do.”

Let me be clear, I’ve given you an instruction and now your ability plus your will needs to work out a response.  That last bit, the work out? It mixes conscious and unconscious processes.  It coordinates the central nervous system receptors and transmitters that pass on the fight/flight triggers that route, interpret, select and cue whatever you do.

Your decision, answer or activity turns out to be a reactive bundle that rapidly assembled in response to my instructions.


Watch/and or listen to your recording.

Were the phrases the same? what differences, if any did you notice?

I presume that you too are calm reading what I’ve written.  Do you know the reason I asked you to record this little activity and ask you to compare them?  I’m guessing you are also still wondering how any of this relates to magic beans, bonus points if you are beginning to connect all these little messages together.

Congratulations if you are aware of the following:

  1.  The power to learn and adapt is innate in all of us.
  2. Reflection and replay increase our understanding as it invites us to turn our focusing lens on ourselves and notice what we do as well as what we don’t do.
  3. Deeper learning occurs when we expend time and dedicate effort to learning any task or understanding someone or something.
  4. Thinking releases other chemicals and changes how we feel.  Circumstances dictate whether we feel drowsy or anxious and the extent of triggered connections.

Back to the real world

with respect to my own failure, and the story I mentioned at the onset of this post, I now get to the purpose and intention behind this posting.

Personally, I spend more time thinking and less time doing. To think through a problem or even identify its root cause requires different skills than applying the fresh thinking or even deeper understanding.  True, situations and circumstances vary. Social factors, in particular, affect our behavior often ahead of our awareness.

In my social scenario, I reacted emotionally with little or no thought, intention or consideration for others in my presence.  When this happens, I’m less clear and much less effective as I’m reacting to a narrow set of cues.  Of course, this is a considerable improvement over my previous habit of interrupting people before they finished telling me anything.

When does my intention to know differ from my hunger for magic beans? Our behaviors give us away.  What blew my ego’s cover, was my belief that I knew more than what was being said and I was impatient enough to prove it.

What I didn’t do was practice active listening, use my knowledge to ask questions and honor what others may or may not know.  Magic beans are always worth less than you pay for them unless you exercise a little critical thinking.

Earlier I gave you some simple instructions and then used more than the three instructional words to explain what I was doing.  What informed my purpose, my intention and lent credibility to make you consent and participate?

The only way to test what you know is to repeat it, think and then write it out.  It’s why the teacher in me knows that I’ll be better after I’ve had the chance to think things through.  When I just start talking I’m thinking outloud.  In some situations that’s appropriate, as in when you want to collaborate. But if people cut you off, then chances are your learning or recitation isn’t worth much.

The best way to apply what I know is to practice and test it, not by giving a lecture but by applying the learning in a demonstration of its meaning.

What about you, do you have any suggestions or ideas for how I can get out of my own way, be open to more possibilities?


The best gift you can give–space to be heard


Collaboration (Photo credit: yuan2003)

I grew up in a big family and the only way to survive was to learn how to collaborate with my siblings and work out a strategy to move mutual interests ahead. That meant, I had to learn to be good listener and less a manipulator. Harder still was something I didn’t understand and only learned later–being right is over-rated.  It’s easier to create a willing partner to my ideas if I allow others opportunity to put their gloss on it too.

I guess I didn’t realize or value my natural collaborative style. It took me by surprise in many work situations that few people were as willing to coöperate. That for all the times I used my strengths and capabilities to enable others whose talents or expertise was in a different domain, I discovered I couldn’t always end-run their barriers.

After a couple of serious catapulting maneuvers that I knew would be career ending, I benched myself. I took myself out of that arena and went to find a new game and new players. Years later, I began to recognize that perhaps there was another way to help people make needed changes and liberate both their own career and the organization?

I revisited some of my graduate studies in natural bias and incongruity of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty, specifically the work of my professor Hillel Einhorn and Robin Hogarth and that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was green when it came to internalizing new ideas, some of them were easier to grasp than others and the formulas often eluded my connected comprehension. What did stick was the following:

In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control. “


It’s akin to finding something familiar and thinking “oh yeah, I got this.” Only to discover that you can’t exactly do it. Random elements aside, its difficult to recognize some subtle elements. Knowing all the steps to a good forehand stroke or golf swing, isn’t the same as actually connecting movements that successfully contact and propel the ball.

The problems and inconsistent behavior presented by unconscious intuition make linkages difficult, and prevent us from fully leveraging learning from parallel experiences. In my case, I found it difficult to extend and apply to interpersonal relationships the lessons and discoveries extrapolating risk I learned statistically modeling people’s financial behavior.

The bridge I sought arrived when a corporate reorganization landed me in outplacement for senior executives and I took the Meyer’s Brigg’s assessment for the first time.  Conveniently, I learned my type –INTP, and shown its rarity in corporate banking and absence among many c-suite executives.  At the time, when I wanted to reconcile my inability to survive a political reorganization, MBTI fueled my rationalization to leave corporate banking.  It was years later than I learned to recognize the confirmation bias at work.

My personal journey of experiential learning continued upon discovering the work of Roger Schank whose work in cognitive psychology emphasizes the importance of story and learning by doing. Story telling represents the synthesis of new learning with past experiences. The newly acquired knowledge can be more easily assimilated and finds outlets that further extend its value and build additional knowledge.  Learning presented whole in a bubble like school without context, doesn’t get the benefit of a road test which denies its connectivity to our perceptions and daily encounters.

But I digress. Collaboration was my topic. Good collaborators succeed because they recognize the distinctions they bring in perspective and perception.  Unexpected encounters or deviations in routine often present a stumble point.  Whether due to lack of confidence, disconnect between knowledge and know how or complete absence of knowledge, its’ risky to reveal our vulnerability.  Naturally, we find it easier to turn to people we know and trust for suggestions, tips, additional insight and information about how to proceed.  Alternatively, situations and circumstances that compel us to do it ourselves,  may arise when  we feel compelled to prove something, test ourselves and maybe distrust assurances others offer.

Which brings us to the challenges in beginning a collaborative venture or willing partnerships. The same stumble points above must be negotiated. Emotions, ever-present in every situation don’t necessarily dissipate because people know each other. Situation or circumstances that defy our comfort zone, know-how or knowledge provide pivotal moments for others to offer help, as long as we free up the emotional and physical space that allows them to voice their thoughts.

It seems obvious but again easier said then done.  The best way to gain the trust, friendship and cooperation of others is to give the one thing everyone wants.

As part of the development team on Collaborating Minds, I met Laurel Tyler a new member on Collaborating Minds.  She reminded me of the following lesson when she shared what makes her effective in working with teams and solving problems.

“People just want to know that they have been heard.”

The simplicity explain my eternal optimism and the approach I’ve found that makes me successful too.  It explains I’m on collaborating minds and helping build that community. If you would like to learn more about this project, drop me a line.

But better, try it. Amaze yourself  and discover how much easier everything gets in return.

May the spirit of the season inspire your listening.