Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sachs, Unsafe Thinking

Following the safe path, sticking with the tried-and-true, leads to mediocrity. To thrive, especially in conditions of rapid change, you must be willing to embrace the unconventional. This is the basic thesis of Jonah Sachs’s Unsafe Thinking: How to Be Nimble and Bold When You Need It Most (Da Capo Press/Hachette, 2018).

Sachs talked with more than 100 innovators to learn how they had succeeded in taking bold, intelligent risks. The insights he gained from them, coupled with the findings of academic research, provide the backbone of his book.

The six key components of unsafe thinking (and the six parts of the book) are courage, motivation, learning, flexibility, morality, and leadership. Here I’ll share a couple of the points Sachs makes on learning and flexibility.

Being, and (worse) acting like, an expert can “lead us, unwittingly, down the path to entrenchment. … The endpoint of this path is close-mindedness and over-confidence.” It’s far better to act like an explorer, “to openly ask questions, gain knowledge in new fields, and constantly expand [one’s] expertise.” One should “spend time doing things that make you a beginner again.” Sachs explains that “engaging in just about anything that is both challenging and unfamiliar creates more cognitive flexibility. Being a rank beginner breaks down overactive pattern recognition, giving you a boost of creativity, even when you return to your area of expertise.”

Flexibility is an essential ingredient of unsafe thinking. Sachs suggests that tapping into intuition is a way of becoming flexible. Let’s say a person has a counterintuitive idea. Should he move forward with it? “Because analysis alone can’t prove the unusual idea is right, proceeding demands a heavy dose of intuition.” As Jack Welch said, good decisions come “straight from the gut.”

But intuition can be “fickle and unreliable.” It can be used as “a cover to go into biased thinking.” Intuitions aren’t truths but hypotheses that need to be tested, to be checked with feedback and data.

Unsafe Thinking is an illustrated (with stories) roadmap for navigating those situations, increasingly frequent in our fast-paced world, where more-of-the-same or incremental change just won’t do.

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