1. What Are Thinking Skills?:
Few of us spend much time consciously practising thinking skills. We believe that thinking is either a natural function or believe that the great thinkers among us are gifted. Nothing could be further from the truth. All research shows that each of us has a hugely powerful potential in our brains that lies vastly under-used. Moreover, when faced with a wide range of unsolveable problems in our lives, the need to use this potential has never been greater.
The Potential of the Brain
The facts about the brain are truly stupendous. For example, did you know that the human brain takes up a fifth of all the energy generated by your body in its resting state? It is similar to a 20-watt light bulb continuously glowing. How big do you think the brain is? Well, if you can imagine it, your brain consists of 100 billion cells, each one of which connects to 1000 other brain cells making a total of 100,000 billion connections. There are more cell connection points in the human brain than there are stars in our galaxy. As Norman Cousins put it, “Not even the universe with all its countless billions of galaxies represents greater wonder or complexity than the human brain.”
Here are some more astonishing facts about your brain. Although the brain weighs just 3lb, it contains 12 trillion nerve cells (more than two and a half times the people on this planet). It contains 1000 trillion trillion molecules (way beyond our ability to compute), and can process 30 billion bits of information a second. Your brain has 10 billion neurons and the range of connections all the neurons in the brain could make would amount to one with 28 noughts after it. Just stop and write that down to get a feel for what that is. Your brain has enough atomic energy to build any of the world’s major cities many times over. Unsurprisingly, no human being has yet existed who has been able to use all the potential of the brain. How about you?
Exploding the Myths
One of the reasons we fail to make the most of our brain and, therefore, our thinking skills, is that we hang on to a range of inherited assumptions about our brain and our capacity to think. Many of us believe that, contrary to the facts, we are either born bright or stupid. We think that we are only as intelligent as our measured Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and that this is fixed throughout our lives. We think that, when we run up against big problems, they just can’t be solved. We fret over taking decisions and bemoan our ability to choose wisely. We think that we are stuck with the way we think and that we cannot change it. And to top things off, we think that, as we age, our brain declines and with it, our abilities to remember things. The only one of these assumptions that is true is that it is only our thinking that limits the power of our brains.
A simple look at what we ask of our brains is enough to show us what a wonderful organ this is. First, unlike other species (at least to our knowledge), we are the only species that can think in the 3 dimensions of past, present, and future. We can use our brains to interpret our world in any way we choose, at one extreme, positively and, at the other, negatively. We can use our brains for working out answers to logical problems as well as using it imaginatively to work out answers to illogical problems. We can imagine with our brains, invent and innovate. We can learn, change and develop. We can use our brains to interpret, understand, and become wise. We can use our brains to analyse things and to synthesise things. And, again, uniquely for species on this planet, we can use our brains to think about our thinking. The brain is truly the most complex and versatile tool we have in our bodies.
Brain not Brawn
Given the wonderful instrument that our brains are, it is astonishing that, until very recently, thinking was regarded in industrialised countries as a second-class skill. For several centuries, people were employed first for their manual labour, secondly, for their machine-operating skill and lastly, and only if called upon, for their thinking ability. Today, all that has changed. We no longer live in an industrialised age but an information age. Instead of brawn, the successful companies and economies of today and the future need brains. They are the ones that will harness, use and reward the combined thinking abilities of everyone in them.
So what kind of thinking skills do we need in the Information Age? Mike Pedler and Tom Boydell are researchers who have studied the qualities needed by successful workers. They found that at least half of the key skills are those that relate to how we use our brains. Their list reads:
command of basic facts
relevant professional understanding
continuing sensitivity to events
analytical, problem-solving, decision-taking and judgment-making skills
social skills and abilities
proactivity: an ability to respond purposefully to events
balanced learning habits
All of us are capable of developing our thinking in all these different skills. But we are slow to change. Percy Barnevik, former chairman of ABB says, “Organisations ensure people only use 5 to 10% of their abilities at work. Outside of work, the same people engage the other 90 to 95%.” By contrast, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, says that encouraging ideas was one of his top three tasks, (the other two were, selecting the right people and allocating capital resources). One of Welch’s typical approaches was to ask his managers not only what their ideas were, but who they shared them with, and who adopted them.
When the factory of American entrepreneur and founder of IBM, Thomas Watson, burnt down, Watson was surprisingly unfazed. When asked why, he said that the wealth of his business was not based in his offices, assembly lines, and buildings but in the intellectual capital of his employees. He said, “I can re-build the offices and buildings. But I could never replace the combined knowledge, abilities and thinking skills of my people.”
The human brain is so powerful that few of us come anywhere near to using it as well as we could.
Every person has the ability to think intelligently and creatively.
The brain is the source of key mental faculties such as memory, imagination, creativity and innovation.
The brain is the key tool for mastering the modern information age.
Everyone in a modern organisation is a knowledge worker to some extent.
According to research, half the skills needed by successful workers involve the use of thinking skills.
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