I was on site in the UK all week. During the week I had meetings in my office. Meetings on the telephone. Meetings in the cafeteria. Meetings from my car. And even a meeting over dinner.
Like everyone, I think a great deal when I am meeting anyone – one-to-one or in a group. Face-to-face or remotely. I also take time after the session to think more, and differently, about what we discussed. I am always energised by discussions with people. I learn…am inspired…and enjoy. But it is often this more ‘leisurely’ thinking that gives me better ideas or insight.
There are three speeds of thought. Instinctive is the fastest. This is the moment when you are driving home and a car ahead of you loses control and crashes. You act instinctively. You don’t have time to think. You hit the breaks for all you are worth, but yet you continue to make instant decisions. I have to keep control but keep moving. I need to avoid the crashing car. Where are the vehicles behind me? Instant and instinctive. No thought. Fast.
The second is real time. This is what how we think when discussing topics with someone else. We listen and we think in real time. What does this mean? What would I do? What should I say next? Do I understand? Do I agree? Will it work? Real time thinking…in the moment.
I know I have to concentrate. I can’t multi-task. When on telecoms I will often sit away from my desk so as to not to be distracted. I need to think about the session I am in. Another reason why I always look to keep my meetings to schedule. It helps me – and whoever I am meeting with – to know that we will break at the allotted time. We know we can concentrate on the immediate discussion now and can think about a different task then.
The slowest speed of thought is ‘back of the mind’. We all know the expression – I’ll put it to the back of my mind – but for me it is a real and conscious process. I will deliberately let an idea sit at the ‘back of my mind’ without focus or thought. But will subsequently allow it to come to the front of my mind…consider it and then sometimes even push it back again.
I do this when I go to the fitness center, or when I am driving. I clear my thoughts at the start and I just wait to see what comes to the front of my mind. Sometimes it is about me, sometimes about my family, sometimes about our work, sometimes about colleagues or friends, and sometimes – I am delighted to say – it is actually just nothing.
But when those thoughts do come forward it is amazing how often I can decide (in that subsequent moment) what to do, or what to stop. How often I identify a better solution or realise who to involve. This is ‘back of the mind’ thinking. It takes time and effort.
There is not much we can do about instinctive thought – other than rely on it when we have to. But I consciously use ‘real time’ and ‘back of the mind’ thinking. For example, many times I will decide specifically not to make a ‘real time decision’ but rather will put that idea on the ‘back burner’. Let is sit and see what comes happens.
It can be hard to do. In truth it doesn’t always work. But it is amazing how often it does, and how often it leads to a much better outcome.