If you think rational thinking plays the key role in our strategic planning process – guess what, it’s underpinned by emotion and it is emotion that assigns the values on which decisions are made. Not only that, when a solution to a problem has many possibilities, it’s the unconscious mind that is better at finding an answer.
These are just some of the insights in The Social Animal – The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement by New York Times columnist, David Brooks. In our decision-a-minute world, it’s helpful to know how success happens, which is why this book is so timely. Built on reams of scientific data but told through the lives of a composite couple over time, The Social Animal was a fascinating summer read.
It confirmed some of my thinking and my approach in our strategic planning Roundtable discussions: that more minds around the table are better at problem solving than a single mind struggling to find an answer; that intuition is like a beam of light fanning out in front of us illuminating hidden answers; and that clarity and better planning comes with a wider and higher “balcony view” of a situation.
This last observation was also reinforced in another thought-provoking book: The Art of Possibility – Transforming Professional and Personal Life written by husband and wife team, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. She is an executive coach and family systems therapist and he is a conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. They bring an unusual perspective to a book that was first published by the Harvard Business School Press to appeal to both business and non-business audiences.
In one of the many stories about his work as a conductor, Ben cautions against focusing on the notes at the expense of the composition, stressing that it’s only by getting above the work; connecting to the long line of the music and the overarching structure, that it’s possible to see new meaning.
Business leaders have exactly the same challenge. It’s easy to become fixated on a problem, to operate at ground level, and to miss the big picture and the possibilities it holds; especially possibilities outside conventional thinking.
If we were to widen that view even further by paying attention to our intuition (which in my experience, is always right), and gave emotion more credit in decision making, who knows, we might also widen the scope of our problem solving capabilities as well. I have a mantra: there’s always more than one right answer. These two books point to different ways to get there.