When I first started teaching engineering design, I adopted a design process that required students to come up with three different possible solutions to any design challenge we worked on - but wasn’t one enough? Over the years, it became strikingly clear why the brainstorming process should include multiple options.
We often think of one viable idea, and that idea is obviously the solution we think we should pursue. But our first idea isn’t always the best, our first thought is nearly never the extent of our thinking, and our first judgment isn’t typically the most accurate.
We get hooked on our first idea and want to just get in action or move on. It’s actually a little intellectually lazy - avoiding the effort to come up with alternative options or thoughts - and, at times, it can be a bit harmful, especially in our relationships.
What do you like? What are you committed to? What’s the next task to accomplish? What type of family culture do you want to build? What would be your dream job? What should you have for breakfast? Is this person worthy of your respect? What’s on your mind? Like with our design projects in school, the first answer to any of these questions is just scratching the surface, and the first answer isn't necessarily the best, most accurate, or even the real answer.
There’s a magical question that I’ve been asking more and more of myself, my students, and my friends, not just in a design project context, but in a broader life context: “What else?” (It’s one of the 7 insight-inducing questions in Michael Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
Every time I ask this question of students, I’m shocked that they so easily go into what else is on their mind. It’s like the thoughts and ideas slow to a trickle after a minute of talking, then I ask “what else?” and the valve opens all the way again for more thoughts and ideas to come flowing out.
Why do we do this to ourselves, stop thinking so quickly without digging just a little deeper? We have clearly documented errors in our thinking called cognitive biases that have helped us survive in the wild since the beginning. Each of the biases described in this list of 12 gives a reason for why we are quick to go with our first response.
Our first thought, our first response, our first judgment, our first impression - it’s not likely what’s true for us, others, or the world.
Ask yourself and others the question, “What else?”, and you’ll very quickly realize that the first, typically obvious answer, is not all there is. There’s a lot more juice in that fruit, and it literally only takes a couple moments of a squeeze to get a clearer view of ourselves, others, and the world itself.
What’s on your mind? …What else? ❤️
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