Put a fool and an expert in separate rooms. Give them each the same problem. The fool, sure of himself, supplies an answer immediately. As does the expert.
However, we all the know the expert’s answer is much more likely to be correct.
Several years ago I asked myself this question: How does the expert differ from the fool? What does he/she possess that makes him/her much more able to tackle tough problems? The answer is “A lot of things,” but it boils down to something small and simple (but not easy): The power of self-suggestion.
The Angel On Our Shoulder
A few week ago I woke up to get ready for work. I traipsed from the bed to the bathroom. Reaching for the toothbrush, my thoughts were intent upon making my breath not capable of shutting down a city block with one loose of air.
I turned the handle on the sink, only to find that nothing came out. I have very little plumbing experience, so my first thought was that I had done something to bust the sink, but had no idea what. I moved to the kitchen sink only to be met with the same issue. The bathtub was stricken as well.
My hypothesis of the situation changed. My next thought was that I had forgotten to pay the water bill and that they had shut me down. I searched frantically for the bill stub for the last month only to see that I was paid up.
It was at this point that I determined it was a larger issue than just the house and I had to get to work. Leaving my house I noticed some city trucks at the end of the block fixing a busted pipe, and the dilemma was solved.
When you come across problems like this, your power of thought is what helps you solve them. It does this in a very scientific manner.
- First, it will produce a suggestion of what might be happening based on past experience. My lack of experience in plumbing, led me to my next best guess, that I tend to break things easily.
- Attempts to gather more evidence are made based on this suggestion. The suggestion gives you a starting point by which to inquire further. I start looking for a broken knob or water on the floor of a broken pipe.
- If the evidence doesn’t fit the hypothesis, you have to start coming up with other ideas. Me finding out it just wasn’t the bathroom sink led me to believe it was a house-wide issue, one not likely to occur just because of minor misuse of a sink.
- You attempt to gather more evidence for alternatives, until you either find a correct one, or give up and call the plumber. Seeing the workers at the end of the block sealed the deal for me.
It’s like a little angel on your shoulder, giving you ideas about what to look into next. Without some direction you are more than likely to call the plumber sooner than later.
We improve our thinking by training our angel.
Self-Suggestion From External Suggestion
Having a great coach is a necessity if you are going to go far in your field. A great coach motivates you to be better, teaches you the techniques you need to be better, and most importantly, draws your attention to the cues which determine what techniques to use.
By working with someone who knows the ropes, you are able to see what is important to focus on. If I had had an experienced plumber with me, he may tell me that the fact that it seemed like air came out of the sink when I initially tried to use it would indicate that the water had been shut off. I may have come to a more correct answer to the problem sooner, saving me time.
We aren’t able to improve our own suggestions unless we have the proper guidance on what suggestions count and which ones don’t.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell brings up a great point that we should trust our initial thought, our suggestion. Our minds are pretty good at naturally picking up on patterns and as such, our best guess when we have nothing else is better than making the situation more complex than it should be.
We initially train our suggestion angel by this process, therefore it is absolutely necessary to surround yourself with the best.
The more you align yourself with those who are considered excellent in their field, your own suggestions will begin to take a better shape.
Adding In A Stop Sign Here and There
We underestimate just how many problems we deal with on a daily basis. This is because these problems don’t really seem as such. They are so easy for us to deal with we don’t notice them. The answer is automatic, easy.
Sometimes, though, good suggestions are not remembering age old solutions that still work, but seeing how a new solution might work better.
Innovation is the name of the game in today’s economy. Startups can go from nothing to everything from an idea if its good enough.
That’s why training yourself to “cut into” your own suggestions is a good idea, and is technically a novel suggestion.
- Can it be done differently? The same old same old is boring. There may be a way to do things better and more efficiently. Train yourself to stop every once in a while in the middle of a common, easy problem and look at it in a different way.
- Reserve Judgment. Suggestions have a way of seeming correct most of the time. This is the nature of a suggestion, like “hey, here’s a problem you’ve dealt with before in a similar way and this is how we handled it. It worked out pretty good for us.” However, sometimes we need to hold off judgment and gather some more evidence. A different solution might work too.
- Reflections on past solutions and suggestions. Solutions to problems are rarely labeled as good or bad. Black or white. Usually there is a gradient, with better solutions than others. Sure, the patch up job we just did is going to work just fine for awhile, but it’s necessary to sit back and reflect on how we do things from time to time. This will ensure next time we come across the problem we may be able to handle it better.
Adding in definite stops here and there allows us to be less robot-like and more conscious of what we are doing. It’s easy to roll through the day like a polished problem solver, but sometimes we have to hold back a little bit, we may find a different path that rolls faster.
Conclusion, From Fool To Expert
It is in the process of the training that suggestions are deepened. It’s the difference between a puddle 3′ deep and 30′ deep.
The expert has trained. Through years of rigorous work, they have given themselves the ability to make more educated guesses than a fool. They have done this by following other experts, surrounding themselves with the opportunities to deal with a wide range of problems, and reflecting upon their work so that they may improve later on.
The fool self-suggests too and these solutions may work a lot of the time, but they are shabby, mere patchwork. Not long lasting fixes that allow them to focus on the bigger things.
So often the imagery for good ideas is a light bulb that comes on at just the right moment, inspiring us to great things. I don’t like it. This is what the fool experiences.
The expert’s mind is more like a plasma globe, with connected ideas firing all around. All it takes is a single problem, just like a finger touching the glass, to direct the multitude of connections to a single spot.
A great suggestion.