Category Archives: Strategic Thinking

Stop and Think

By, Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

When you have a problem to solve or decision to make do you take the time to Stop and Think?

As simple as it sounds, most people don’t take the time to Stop and Think about the problem they are trying to tackle or the decision they are trying to make and end up wasting a lot of time. The excuses people make include:

“I already know what the cause of the problem is, or I have a good Idea which choice I should make.”

• “I don’t have time! If I stopped to think about every problem or decision I have I would never solve any of them.”

• “I never consciously thought about it!”

Stop and Think will help make you more efficient in your problem-solving and decision-making and you will realize many benefits. Among them are:

• It will clear your head from the cacophony of daily business noise to focus on the specific situation needing to be addressed.

• It allows your brain to question what your “gut” may be telling you is the best course of action and prevent you from making a snap decision – getting you to use facts over your opinions.

• It is a wise investment of your time. People attribute Ben Franklin with the quote, “Haste, makes waste.” Four or five minutes taken on the front end will save you hours of rework repairing a snap decision that was bad or the incorrect solution to a problem.

• It minimizes your chances of falling into the time-wasting syndrome of “analysis paralysis” because you will take the time to define a list of that data you determine is necessary to arrive at the best outcome and identify the specific sources from which that data will be gathered.

• Finally, when working with others, consider the purpose of Stop and Think similar to a huddle in football before a play. When the huddle breaks the players go to the line knowing what their individual responsibilities are to successfully execute the play called by the coach.

Stop and Think is a critical thinking process. Characteristic of all critical thinking processes there is a list of logical tasks defined by a series of questions you should ask yourself. The answers to those questions help you to formulate your game-plan for tackling your situation. Here is a look at some of the questions you must answer and tasks you must accomplish before running out onto the problem solving and decision-making field.

1. Have you created a clear description of your problem, decision or goal? John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform, said, “A problem well-defined, is a problem half solved.” What he was referring to is that when you take the time up-front to develop a concise problem or decision statement it helps you to eliminate areas you should avoid because those areas have nothing to do with your current challenge. I.T. professionals consider this as avoiding “scope creep.” That’s where your workload expands into doing work not directly associated with your primary task or wasting time to gather information which – in the end – proves to be irrelevant.

2. How does this relate to my goal, objective or mission? Answering this question will allow you and your team to tie the successful resolve directly to your overall purpose. When you do this, you will recognize the level of importance that this decision of solution has to the overall progress of your project or job.

3. What is the urgency and risk associated with this dilemma? Prioritizing tasks is an important concept in managing one’s time and project plan. By identifying the issue’s urgency and risk you will be able to balance this problem or decision among the many other things you need to accomplish.

4. How much time do you believe will be needed to solve this problem or make this decision? Everyone works well when deadlines are established and known by all. Create that deadline. If not, you will find yourself viewing procrastination as an option. It shouldn’t be!

5. Define your criteria in advance? Establishing criteria in advance allows you to pinpoint the specific information you will need to gather which prevents you from drowning in a sea of information and wasting time in that dreadful time waste known as analysis paralysis. Your criteria will also help you frame up your problem or decision and identify the source where that information can be obtained.

So, with your next problem or decision resist the urge to jump in with both feet. Stand at the edge – Stop and Think – and carefully map-out the game plan you will follow with an accurate and concise assessment. You will save a lot of time and frustration.
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Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking

Open Mind: A Cure for Cognitive Bias

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Fake News…. Alternative Facts….

These are two terms that we hear too much of in the news these days, and they are invading our team and project meetings.

I don’t intend to get into a political debate. What I do want to highlight is the phenomenon of cognitive bias that causes us to rely only on that information which is not in conflict with what we already believe to be true and how it is detrimental to sound critical thinking. Every critical thinking process you can employ adheres to the old adage; “Garbage in, garbage out.” Thereforeif you only use information with which you believe to be true or agree, chances are you will fail in solving your problems correctly, creating solid strategic plans or making accurate decisions.

Cognitive bias occurs because of several reasons:

  • You take mental shortcuts when solving problems or making decisions to save time.
  • Too much information is available, and you gravitate to only that information with which you are most familiar or you believe to be true.
  • You are motivated by emotional or moral reasons.
  • You yearn to be “in-sync” with your associates or friends – Peer pressure or Groupthink.

There are 120 types of cognitive biases that we all experience when assessing situations, solving problems, generating solutions, and making decisions. It’s a regular smorgasbord! Without having to spend years in therapy to break through these biases there is one easy solution we can all practice which will help us steer clear of cognitive biases – having an open mind. An open mind will permit you to look at information that may be in conflict with your experiences and what you understand to be true. Ultimately, an open mind leads to more accurate decisions, plans, and solutions.

Here are ten suggestions you should consider acting on to keep that door to your mind open on a regular basis:

  • Listen More Than You Talk!

When you talk, you reinforce what you already know and believe. When you listen, you hear information that may be different from what you know and believe.

  • Think Positive, Before Negative

Our brains are prewired to protect us. When someone brings up a new idea our brains have an “Automatic Negative Thoughts” trigger. Our first reaction is to give a dozen reasons why the idea is bad or why it won’t work. Force your brain to start thinking about the positives. Think how an idea will work, or what the benefits of that idea could be.

  • Never Say Never, Never Say Always

This mindset keeps your thoughts and beliefs static. The world around us is moving fast. Things DO change. Your thinking and thoughts must also change in order to stay up-to-date. By saying NEVER and ALWAYS you do not allow your thinking to evolve.

  • Avoid Making Snap Decisions

When you make snap decisions it’s usually because of overrated intuition– your gut. That means you do not think through decisions by using established criteria and facts. The more you do this, the more comfortable you feel making decisions “on the fly” which keeps your mind closed.

  • Respect Others’ Point of View

By respecting other people’s points of view, it prevents your brain from being immediately defensive about views, opinions, or feeling that are different than yours. This invites people to express their points of views more often. You will find It increases collaboration and teamwork!

  • Look for New Opportunities

Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “There is a better way to do it, I have to find it.” Be like Edison and look for new opportunities to be more productive and more efficient. This mindset will help keep your mind’s door wide open.

  • Expand Your Network

We surround ourselves with people who tend to think like we do. They are your comfort zone and provide you a “safe place.” Expand your business network. Add new people to your circle of friends. These people will provide a diversity to your views and what you think.

  • Make Failure an Option

When thinking through new ideas, or different ways to do things, make failure an option in your mind. We naturally avoid failure at all costs so we will make judgments sometimes because of uncertainty or lack of knowledge. When you let yourself consider failure as an option you will not be quick to dismiss those ideas that appear on the surface as unsafe.

  • Get Away from Your Screens

This is the most difficult of all of the suggestions. We are addicted to our screens – computer screens, cell phone screens, TV screens, tablets, and even touch screens on our car’s dashboard. Make an effort to go on a technology diet. Each day, make a conscious decision to detach yourself from all screens for a period of time – one or two hours, initially. When you get on your screens you gravitate to information with which we agree – Facebook pages, Twitter or Instagram accounts, or texts to and from our friends. It confirms our beliefs. It makes us feel “safe.” Turn them off. Walk the dog. Go for a run or a bike ride. Better yet, sit down and talk with your family, friends, and neighbors.

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Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Times are a Changin’… Lead!

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Leadership is defined by changing times. Businesses must always change in order to maintain their leadership in the industry. Those organizations that don’t change remain stagnant and end up falling behind their competition. Consumers’ wants, change. Industry standards change. Regulations change. Business demands change. Therefore, change is inevitable. Those organizations that achieve and maintain success do so through competent leadership.

A significant barrier to leading through changing times is that people are creatures of habit. We don’t like change! Change takes us out of our comfort zones.  It causes confusion because most of the time people do not know what is changing and what is not changing. In addition, many times the whys of what are causing the change are not clearly understood. Most of the time success is also defined by new measurements on which performance is judged and this creates fear that can be crippling

So how do great leaders break through this confusion and fear in order to blaze a new path to success? Here are some important tips:

  1. People Tend to Support What They Help Create. This may sound like a tired, old adage but it’s true. People like to be included in the development and planning of new processes, policies and procedures. Inclusion opens up understanding of the business journey on which employees will have to travel. It allows for mutually defined goals and plans. Most of all it provides ownership which yields responsibility and accountably.
  2. Be a Better Listener. Good leaders listen to the people around them. They listen to suggestions on how things might be accomplished and new ideas. They listen to people who just need to “vent” even when that venting may not be productive. People are trying to regain their footing during changing times.
  3. Great Leaders are Empathetic to Feelings. Change produces a wide range of emotions. Leaders must not be apathetic to people’s emotions — “I don’t care just suck it up.” Nor, should they jump to being sympathetic to their emotions — “I agree, you should be angry.” Instead, they should be  This means acknowledging the person’s emotions — “I see this has you frustrated. What about this is frustrating?”  Being empathetic shows a person you recognize the emotions they are fighting through and then allows you to deal with facts — or the root causes — of their frustration. It’s easier to deal with facts and actual situations than to try and negotiate with individual emotions.
  4. Communicate.  Communicate. Communicate. You can never communicate too much during changing times. Change causes confusion. People initially hear only what they want to hear. People draw conclusions based on their past experiences. Developing a consistent message and delivering that same message over and over again facilitates implement all changes.
  5. “What’s In It For Me? Don’t highlight what the changes mean to the company. Highlight instead on what the changes mean for the individual. Your answer to this questions should always focus on the positives or benefits, such as, increased productivity, elimination of ‘busy’ work or less stress.
  6. Identify and Rely on Key Stakeholders. Identify other key stakeholders and rely on them to provide you support, answers to questions you can’t answer, and for resolutions to issues that may be outside of your authority.

Following these six principles of managing change will make you the best leader you can be during turbulent times.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Is Conformity Keeping You from Success?

Social conformity is a powerful and hidden motivation that influences our decisions and strategic planning in ways we don’t even realize or understand. It’s called “that’s the way we have always done it.” This is a way of thinking that hinders innovation and success. Let me demonstrate the power of conformity with this personal experience…

Recently I joined a few friends at an NBA game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food and drinks were free! Who could say, “No?”

Initially we were all acting very proper because of the luxury trappings that surrounded us. It was a close game and soon we were all behaving like the less fortunate people that were sitting in the cheap seats.  We were all cheering, standing, shouting, and high-fiving each other. Decorum quickly died. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were screaming and behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor above center court displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera is pointed at a couple they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction while the teams strategized during a timeout, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date.” As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway and the crowd erupted. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making and strategic planning. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning our decisions and planning.

If your organization needs to innovate, but is stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” mentality consider these tips for re-framing your decisions and plans.

  1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money already invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.
  2. Behave like the enemy: The military uses a process that is called “Red Teaming.” It’s where they gather a group of subject matter experts and review plans and decisions through the eyes of the enemy. They look for holes or weaknesses in your thinking. Businesses are beginning to adopt this process to expose questions such as; How might your competitor sell against you? How can they overcome your new product launch? How can they position their services to steal business with a mutual client? What can they do that might completely disrupt the way you do business?
  3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

Moving forward, avoid falling into the “that’s the way we have always done it” way of thinking. Challenge yourself, your teams and your associates on a regular basis to get out of this destructive way of thinking. Take action to overcome the comforts of what is accepted as “normal.”

Reprinted from Action Management Associates

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Change Happens!

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Everyone has heard the phrase, “change is constant.” But yet when we are faced with change our first reaction is to cringe or loudly object. Why is that?

The reason for the reaction is because change indicates – more times than not – that we are going to lose something. It can be something as simple as just losing the comfort of doing your job the way in which you are accustomed. We are creatures of habit and don’t like forces which make us step outside our comfort zone. Most organizations implement change in a way that is perceived as cleaning out a basement. They get rid of things. This makes implementing change both personally – and in an organization – painful. And, the slower you take to actually implement change, the more painful it is because people cling to the false hope that in the end everything will remain the same.

In order to succeed change must occur, and often. The world is not standing still. Once successful and prosperous companies that did not embrace change have gone the way of the dinosaur. One does not need to look any further than Kodak. My children do not – and will not – know what a “Kodak Moment” is. Their Kodak Moments are now “Instagram Moments.”

Every smart business person understands that what worked last year, probably won’t work this year. If you’re still running your business, managing your staff or just doing your job using a “2008 Play Book” or strategic plan you will lose… and fast! Look at companies like, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. They are reacting and changing at breakneck speed, and winning.

During your next meeting listen for the two phrases which shout that your organization and the people in it are not readily accepting of change and entrenched in doing business they way they always have. Those phrases are; “That’s not the way we do things here” and, “We have never done it that way before.” Be brave and shout back, “Why not?” Don’t cling to techniques, methods, management practices or product lines (see Kodak) that are “comfortable” because they were successful at one time.

In the future… Tomorrow… when implementing changes, consider the following in order to move through the rough patches and get back on solid footing.

1. Expect Emotion: Leaders are typically very good at planning the structural side of change, but ignore the people side. Realize that the brain’s natural response is to view change as a threat. People need time to accept change, so acknowledge their feelings by hearing them out. Give them time to mourn.

2. Validate Concerns: When team members share concerns, our natural response is to counter these concerns with how we plan to overcome them. This can be perceived as you are not listening. Instead, spend time acknowledging the legitimacy of the concerns before offering ideas for moving forward or the benefits of changing.

3. Don’t Expect Immediate Results: We often say there is a “learning curve” associated with any change. What we fail to acknowledge is that the curve always trends downward before finally showing the promise of a performance enhancement. Embrace discomfort and allow time for temporary failure. Otherwise, people may mistake the performance drop as a sign that the change was a bad idea. Improvement takes time. Be on the lookout for even the smallest successes and celebrate them to show progress.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him atlouquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Implementing Change During Times of Adversity

If the recent string of cruise ship problems over the last year has you changing your vacation plans, you’re not alone. Four Carnival cruise ships have experienced trouble at sea ranging from power outages to steering problems. The long-term impact to Carnival’s business depends largely on their response to this crisis.

It’s situations like this that have business leaders wondering how their company would respond in a time of crisis or adversity. Perhaps you don’t have responsibility for such visible crises but what about the “everyday” crises you experience with your sales force, teams and departments? Crises such as losing an important client, losing to the competition, or losing market share? It’s important to recognize that managing people and processes in a crisis is the same as managing them under normal circumstances. However, what’s distinctive in a crisis situation is the urgency, focus and potential negative consequences that highlight the inadequacies that were already present. The way to address the crisis is to first establish solid problem solving practices and a common language for non-crisis situations – and this may require changing the culture of your organization. Second, create a strategic plan to guide you through the current adverse situation.

In working with many large organizations over the years I have found that the following are distinctive traits in those organizations that are successful in changing their problem solving culture. These unique traits are relevant for any culture shift:

Understand why the shift is vital and communicate: Identify and clearly articulate the reason for the culture shift. Identify what would happen if no shift occurred. Identify the expected result and benefit when the shift does occur. And, of course, couch all change actions with a focus on “what’s-in-it-for-me” for each audience.
Overall management commitment: Key organizational management understands and articulates the reason for the shift. Management is “on-board” with the need for the change and the process that was used to achieve the shift.
Key stakeholders and drivers: Often there is a person or small group that is passionate about the need for the culture shift and they have the ability to adjust priorities (including financial) to bring about the needed changes.
Consistent message and support: Messages are communicated clearly and frequently. These messages are also supported in the actions of management. Expectations for change are consistently coached and encouraged by managers. Everyone in the company must understand that the current culture took a long time to develop and it will take time to change the culture. During times of change people push back because they focus on what will be lost. Your message must focus on all of the good things that will be gained.
Common language and processes: Through training and other communication, a common language and set of processes for addressing problems was established. The common language was reinforced through statements, personal actions and coaching of individuals at every opportunity.
Effective interdepartmental communication: Departments must interact well with one another and use the common language and processes that have been established.
Celebrate the “wins”: Organizations find it helpful to point to examples of success that give people a visible example of achievement and benefit. They make a “big deal” about the success so that others are encouraged and motivated to accomplish the same.

In short, crisis management is all about managing change in a culture with which people are comfortable. Shifting the culture of your organization will cause discomfort and push back will hinder your successful implementation. It takes strategic planning and effort to change a culture to one that is resilient in times of crises and adversity.
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Action Management Associates

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Are You Wasting Time in Meetings?

Does the following statement sound familiar? “When the meeting breaks up, people leave and complain to themselves about another waste of valuable time.” If so, you are not alone. That sentiment is echoed in every office building multiple times a day. In 2003, Marakon Associates completed a survey of top management in 187 large companies worldwide and found that senior managers spend less than three hours a month on strategic issues and too much time discussing issues that have little or no direct impact on company value.

The results of the survey were published in a Harvard Business Review article titled Stop Wasting Valuable Time. To understand whether you will benefit from reading this article, consider whether your organization’s top management deals with any of the following:

Top management spends little time together. The survey shows that management spends less than 10% of their time together. Therefore, their time together must be used wisely.

Setting the agenda is unfocused and undisciplined. Less than 5% of companies have a disciplined process for focusing on the most important issues during the meeting. Therefore, the urgent crowds out the important.

Too little attention is paid to strategy. Managers estimate that almost 80% of the time is spent on issues that account for only 20% of the long-term value to the organization.

Meetings aren’t structured to produce real decisions. Only 12% of managers believed that their meetings consistently produced decisions on important or strategic issues.
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Action Management and Associates

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