Monday, February 25, 2008

Intuition is analysis compressed and crystallized

The blog title is a quote from The Wisdom Paradox by Elkhonon Goldberg. The fact that life happened and it's taking me a while to finish is not an indication of my interest in this book. It's about the neurology of memory and thinking and why we can acquire wisdom that more than makes up for any cognitive losses as we age.

I'm a big fan of wisdom.

Increasingly, I am also a fan of intuition. It was not always the case. I was, and am, a very disciplined thinker. I like analysis. I like to know why. Fortunately, I cut my intellectual teeth on poetry. In poetry, intuition is the way into analysis. Good readers are not players - they are playing fields. They notice what is happening as a poem takes to the field, and then they can analyze why it happens.

You can't read a poem the other way around. There is no way to construct a unified whole from bits of metaphor and rhythm and literary allusion. You have to start with the whole in order to appreciate that it is a whole.

Poetry is thinking compressed and crystallized. It's a pattern for understanding how we understand.

Begin with the whole. Notice and appreciate your intuition. Then verify it, if necessary. There are always reasons for the 'hunch' or the 'feeling' that responds instantly to a situation. You can track them through sensory information and references to other experience and rational analysis.

Just don't forget that the advantage of intuition is the speed and ease with which it processes complicated situations. If you analyze it too often, you give up the edge that your intuition is giving you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How do you know when you're getting it right?

It often seems to me that this is the single most life-altering question I ask (myself and other people).

Whether people are looking for personal development, education in particular skills, or leadership abilities, they all seem eager to talk about what they are doing wrong. Their route to improvement seems straightforward: identify weaknesses and strengthen them. Find all the problems and solve them. Know what's wrong.

There is a time for solving problems. You know you're in that time when you know what you're doing right. You know how you know that you are doing good work. You know what's strong about what you already have. Until you identify the things that are working, you are not ready to make changes.

The world is full of things that changed and got worse. They often got worse because someone forgot about noticing success and started tinkering with problems. Something got changed here. Something got deleted there. In the end, what changed was that a problem got solved by weakening a basic strength.

If you are serious about success, pay attention to it. If you are serious about doing good work, know when you are doing good work. Know how you know: what are your criteria for success?

It's Friday. The weekend is approaching - a first February long weekend in Ontario. If you spend today noticing how you know that you are doing a good job at work, you will also notice that you are hitting some of your criteria - maybe even most of your criteria. If you pay attention, you might even begin to build a habit.

As you head home for the long weekend, you might find yourself compulsively noticing the things that are right in your life and the things you like about the people in your life. You might even find yourself noticing some of them out loud.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

How are you today?

Language is deceptively precise. It sneaks up on us. Think about the heading here: how are you today? We all know the answer is a variation on "fine" and describes the condition in which we find ourselves. But the question starts with "how."

How is a word we generally use to elicit a description of a behaviour. How do you get there from here? How do you grill steaks to perfection? How do you know?

So the question could be rephrased as: what behaviours do you need to do, what conditions do you require, in order to be the way you are being right now? How you are is something you do - not something that happens to you.

If how you are is something you do, you can change it. You are not stuck with the state you are in - you can move out of it.

If you really are fine, learn what you do so that you can be fine.

If you are not really fine today, learn what to change so that you can be something you like better.

How you are is something you do.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


One of the things that young students have in common with most of the people we encounter at work is a rock solid belief in the power of a clear, direct statement. Just tell people what to do and watch them get to work.


Why is it the people with the strongest belief in direct statements who are the least likely to take a direct suggestion? Could it be that the same people who believe in being clear (by which they mean confrontational) are likely to be confrontational when dealing with someone else's ideas or priorities? Could it be that "direct" is often a synonym for "my way or the highway?"

Indirection sounds either ineffective or sneaky. It sounds like talking around the problem. It sounds like 'paralysis by analysis.'

Or does it?

Is indirection actually a way to build agreements, cautiously and solidly? Is indirection the mark of someone who knows his/her own way so clearly that he/she can stay the course even while building slowly? Sometimes we ask questions so we will know. Sometimes we ask so that someone else will know.

Useful indirection requires patience, imagination, and empathy. Fortunately, since indirection works by small steps, only a small amount of each is required at any given moment.

Today, you will be tempted to make a resoundingly clear statement of what you want. Stop. Take a breath. Start with the smallest piece of the puzzle and build - not by indirection, but by patience, imagination and empathy.