As business leaders, we’re solving problems all day – including problems that haven’t happened yet. Add to that the extra pressure of time constraints, so when a problem comes up, it’s easy to quickly go into fix-it mode. That’s when we often become biased by our own expertise. Being biased isn’t the same as falling in love with our own ideas, but it can be just as damaging.
Here’s how to avoid it and come up with more effective solutions that stick. These tips are from corporate leaders and change specialists when they spoke at the Work Without Limits Summit.
Like attracts like
Making decisions that are biased by our expertise has an upside. When you’re faced with a problem, you may think, “This is like the other one from___. We successfully solved it using ___, so that should work in this situation.” That makes sense, right? Two problems seem similar, so apply the same solution. That’s what cognitive psychologists call analogical reasoning.
The upside of analogical reasoning is it helps shield us from being overwhelmed by the variety of decisions we make all day. But the downside is in our desire to move efficiently, we can miss the deeper differences between problems, or close our minds to new ideas and possibilities. Both of which can lead to the wrong or less effective solutions.
Be OK with not having the answers
How can we remain open to all possibilities and not fall into our own expertise trap? Approach problems with a beginner’s mindset. In that, you approach a subject with eager curiosity and a lack of preconceptions—even if you have advanced knowledge of a topic.
Leading teams from this mindset encourage employees to feel safe seeking new solutions. They start liberating themselves from doing things the way it’s always been done, which enables them to be more creative and adapt faster to shifting markets. Instead of resisting change, they begin to leverage it.
Dyan Finkhousen, Founder and CEO of Shoshin Works, spent years optimizing how enterprise organizations and their clients work with flexible talent. She says, “We’ve seen that teams that adopt a beginner’s mind and balance it with their expertise were the most successful.”
I see solutions
Let’s see the beginner’s mindset applied to a current business challenge. According to an Upwork Future Workforce report, the top hiring challenge for companies is access to skills. That’s a huge problem because as a business, you are who you hire. So what can you do?
Jeff Fenigstein, VP of Marketing & Sales Operations at Woodruff Sawyer, changed how he defined hiring. Instead of seeing work as a job, he sees it as a framework of tasks. When he hires, he doesn’t just think in terms of full-time employees. He hires for skills and by the project. Then he considers what expert—whether internal or external—could most effectively deliver those tasks.
The perspective shift opened him to flexible talent. “If you think through your wish list of what expertise you’d like at your fingertips, you don’t have to wait until the company and your budget grow enough to hire them. You can have your wish list of experts right now and access them whenever you need,” says Fenigstein.
Fenigstein didn’t overcome talent challenges by reinventing the workforce model. He simply allowed himself to see a better solution using resources that were already available. Analogical reasoning avoided.
Advance further by unlearning
In addition to adopting a beginner’s mind, effective problem solvers are also willing to “unlearn.” A concept introduced in 1981 by Bo Hedberg and it may be more relevant today as technology evolves rapidly. Hedberg proposes that it’s just as important to continue learning new things, as it is to unlearn what doesn’t serve you or an organization anymore. Think legacy processes, beliefs, and habits.
In a business environment where speed and agility are prized, legacy mindsets and infrastructures can be like a boat anchor slowing down an organization’s progress.
“Once the bedrock of competitive advantage, legacy—whether mindset or infrastructure—is increasingly becoming the obstacle to sustainable automation and the future of work.”—Ravin Jesuthasan, Author, Managing Director at Willis Towers Watson
Unlearning opportunities are all around you. Take how you vet talent, for example. Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, prefer gaining work experience and supplementing their knowledge with online courses instead of obtaining advanced degrees. They also prefer working for organizations that align with their values and beliefs. A company that vets talent based on a traditional checklist may look for people from a specific school or who worked for certain companies. But that outdated version on an ideal employee may cause the company to overlook a highly qualified person.
Develop a reskilling habit
The generations-old belief of learning, doing, then retiring isn’t enough anymore. Technology is progressing at such a clip that the half-life of a skill is roughly five years—and it’s shrinking. Put another way, half of what you learned 10 years ago is relevant today.
Not only are skills changing, but also the problems you’ll be facing. What you’ll need to solve in a few months may not resemble the problems you’re dealing with now. That’s why if you want to continue devising quality solutions, you must update the skills and knowledge in your toolbox. Be in the habit of continuous learning, reskilling, and upskilling.
“Embrace the idea that learning isn’t fixed; we’re always growing and training.” –Christine Raestch, VP of People, Duolingo.
Growing steadily in a changing world
If work was a board game, it may seem as if the players and rules are constantly changing. Emerging tech including the Internet of Things (IoT), nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming mainstream. And new tech is continuing to develop. This means you’re not only solving problems under new circumstances, but you’re also solving problems you’ve never seen before.
Honing the ability to come up with new and useful ideas is so important that complex problem solving—the ability to solve novel, ill-defined problems—is predicted to be the most demanded skill in 2020. And like today, you’ll probably have to make decisions under time constraints. But no one can afford to jump into solutions.
A new world requires a new approach. Looking at problems with a beginner’s mind and a willingness to unlearn along the way can help you—and your team—leverage challenges for success instead of being restricted by them.
Read more: The Future of Nanotechnology
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