Friday, 7 November 2014


We’ve all heard about “writer’s block” the equivalent of an actor drying on stage. But when we have a thinking block at work it’s even more serious. “What do you think?” they ask and the truth is you aren’t, can’t and have forgotten how to. Relax. The intellectual equivalent of Dyno Rod is here.

You need to remove anything which annoys you, distracts you or diverts your interest. Go back to what we know about that brain of ours. It’s easily put off and it’s inclined to be a bit lazy. This is not a machine, it’s a living mind with a memory bank that’s amazing but deep-down it has a low boredom threshold. And here are three things designed to block it:

  • Task shifting – the extreme form of multitasking that destroys our ability to think properly although not always to do simple tasks. Imagine that you are busy thinking about how to create a document or whatever and someone walks in and says – “can you check that appraisal you did for Maisie.  I think it’s going to cause us problems.” The sirens go off. You drop what you’re doing and Maisie gets all your attention. When you get back to your document your mind is no longer on it. Your thinking is blocked.
  • Time pressure – stress makes us brain-frozen and unable to think clearly. “I need this and I need it now” screams your boss. We are incapable of saying “no” or “sorry it takes longer than now”. So we do a poor job at solving it, get stressed and probably, as we present it, are told by the person who’s demanded it “now” - “thanks - fine…I’ll look at it tomorrow”.  Your thinking is blocked and probably blocked for the rest of the day.
  • Imposing self-control – research shows this uses up a lot of brain-space and is hugely effortful. Research shows being diplomatic, restraining the impulse to argue or remonstrate creates a great deal of mental activity. It’s as if we were discovering that mental braking uses more fuel than mental acceleration. 

Self-control blocks thinking. And this means that in many a meeting there’s very little chance of getting people to think deeply as they grind their teeth and try to stay calm restraining their need to shout “get me outta here,” a need created by the normal tedium of long meetings.

There’s another piece of advice that applies to keeping your thinking equipment in good shape. Be in a good mood. Smile. Enjoy what’s going on around you. Breathe deeply and stay calm. If you want to wrong foot someone - why would you? - try to make them tense. If you want your own fluid intelligence to stay fluid just relax.

How to solve problems and make brilliant decisions. (Business Thinking Skills that really work) published by Pearson is coming out on November 12th 2014

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