Use these agile thinking secrets to navigate uncertainty

The other day, a friend shared her weekly laundry routine with me: She and her husband gather the dirty clothes together. She loads the washing machine. He switches the clean clothes over to the dryer. She takes them out and folds them. He waits until she’s done and then refolds.

“He always complains about how I fold,” she told me. “He says I don’t do it efficiently enough. So the clothes take up more space! I’d rather do it my way than spend all day trying to fold every piece of clothing just so.”

I’m not going to weigh in on who’s folding correctly, but I do get where he’s coming from. There’s nothing more annoying than watching someone tackle a task when you know there’s a better way.

Sometimes, it feels like we spend a lot of energy trying to make sense of each other and the world around us. Whether we’re navigating the laundry protocols of our significant others, delegating a task to a direct report at work, or trying to find a solution to a nagging business challenge, one thing is clear: Other people don’t always do things the way we would do them. And that can be pretty irritating.

Why do we all take different routes to the same destination?

It all comes down to an internal GPS that’s guiding each of us in certain directions. Your default setting may be to take the shortest route, while someone else is focused on avoiding the highways.

These differences may be annoying, but they can also open up new directions you might never have considered. Once those options are available to you, you can be more agile in the face of roadblocks. You might even change your mind about what the “right” way actually is.

But before you can understand why other people are doing things the way they are, you need to understand your own GPS and what powers it.

How to activate your agile thinking GPS

Your internal GPS is incredibly powerful because it’s fueled by the most important resource you have: your brain.

At its core, your thinking is what guides how you do what you do – whether your first instinct is to organise your desk and bullet point out your step-by-step plan for tackling the project, or to play around with different ideas before diving in wherever your imagination takes you.

The default setting of your GPS represents your go-to thinking. Most of us will be quite happy running along in this default mode unless something throws us off course or keeps us from getting where we need to go. That might stop you in your tracks, but it doesn’t have to, because it’s not your only setting. You have the ability to use this entire system – your whole brain – and nimbly navigate around the roadblocks.

Try this: Next time you’re feeling stuck, take a minute to think about your thinking. What’s your typical approach? Is it:

(A) Logical and rational?
(B) Detailed and organised?
(C) Personalised and expressive?
(D) Imaginative and conceptual?

It most likely leans heavily towards one or two of these, possibly three. You could even be one of the few who’s evenly balanced across all four. The point is, none are right, and none are wrong. It all depends on the circumstances and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Once you understand that you have all these thinking paths available to you, you can turn off autopilot and choose the route that’s best for each situation. This is what agile thinking is all about – understanding and then adjusting your thinking based on the conditions.

And because the brain is inherently flexible, this ability to be an agile thinker is completely within your reach. You just have to understand it, then use it to your advantage.

Different thinking makes you more agile!

So what about everyone else? Well, you can’t control how they think – they have their own default settings, after all – but you can learn to look for clues about their thinking, based on how they approach a situation or task. That way, you’ll know where they’re coming from and how you might work with them more effectively.

You can also do yourself a favour and make the decision to change your perspective on difference. Differences can be challenging to deal with, but they also bring a lot of value. Part of being an agile thinker and leader is being able to tap into the default settings of others to help cover your blind spots.

One GPS is powerful on its own, but add another (and another and another), and the thinking power increases exponentially. Whether your title says “leader” or not, this kind of leadership agility is something we all need to continually develop, considering we encounter different approaches and roadblocks every day.

So don’t get too frustrated the next time someone isn’t doing something the way you would have done it. Instead, follow these three guideposts to keep you on track:

1. Understand your default thinking. Use this knowledge to your advantage, but also practice using your whole brain to build your personal thinking agility.

2. Identify and value different thinking. Be a detective and activate your thinking GPS when working with others. They can help compensate for your blind spots.

3. Develop new skills and comfort for when and how to stretch. Remember, thinking flexibility is inherent, so you already have the ability to use your whole brain. The more you stretch and apply new skills and thinking, the more comfortable and natural they’ll become.

Keen to learn more? Download our whitepaper ‘How will you adapt?‘ and learn how thinking agility provides the key to help you and your leaders adapt, focus and get more done in an increasingly changing environment.

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