Tag Archives: Creative Thinking

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

GUEST POST from Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield

‘It’s important to me that I make my own decisions, but I often wonder how much they are actually influenced by cultural and societal norms, by advertising, the media and those around me. We all feel the need to fit in, but does this prevent us from making decisions for ourselves? In short, can I ever be a truly free thinker?’ Richard, Yorkshire.

There’s good news and bad news on this one. In his poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley wrote: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

While being the lone “captain of your soul” is a reassuring idea, the truth is rather more nuanced. The reality is that we are social beings driven by a profound need to fit in – and as a consequence, we are all hugely influenced by cultural norms.

But to get to the specifics of your question, advertising, at least, may not influence you as much as you imagine. Both advertisers and the critics of advertising like us to think that ads can make us dance any way they want, especially now everything is digital and personalised ad targeting is possible in a way it never was before.


This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


In reality, there is no precise science of advertising. Most new products fail, despite the advertising they receive. And even when sales go up, nobody is exactly sure of the role advertising played. As the marketing pioneer John Wanamaker said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

You’d expect advertisers to exaggerate the effectiveness of advertising, and scholars of advertising have typically made more modest claims. Even these, though, may be overestimates. Recent studies have claimed that both online and offline, the methods commonly used to study advertising effectiveness vastly exaggerate the power of advertising to change our beliefs and behaviour.

This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online.

When the ads don’t work…
Shutterstock

There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!

In other words, although we like to blame the media for how people vote, it is surprisingly hard to find solid evidence of when and how people are swayed by the media. One professor of political science, Kenneth Newton, went so far as to claim “It’s Not the Media, Stupid”.

But although advertising is a weak force, and although hard evidence on how the media influences specific choices is elusive, every one of us is undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which we live.

Followers of fashion

Fashions exist both for superficial things, such as buying clothes and opting for a particular hairstyle, but also for more profound behaviour like murder and even suicide. Indeed, we all borrow so much from those we grow up around, and those around us now, that it seems impossible to put a clear line between our individual selves and the selves society forges for us.

Two examples: I don’t have any facial tattoos, and I don’t want any. If I wanted a facial tattoo my family would think I’d gone mad. But if I was born in some cultures, where these tattoos were common and conveyed high status, such as traditional Māori culture, people would think I was unusual if I didn’t want facial tattoos.

Similarly, if I had been born a Viking, I can assume that my highest ambition would have been to die in battle, axe or sword in hand. In their belief system, after all, that was surest way to Valhalla and a glorious afterlife. Instead, I am a liberal academic whose highest ambition is to die peacefully in bed, a long way away from any bloodshed. Promises of Valhalla have no influence over me.

Vikings had different beliefs to most modern liberal academics.
Shutterstock

Ultimately, I’d argue that all of our desires are patterned by the culture we happen to be born in.

But it gets worse. Even if we could somehow free ourselves from cultural expectations, other forces impinge on our thoughts. Your genes can affect your personality and so they must also, indirectly, have a knock-on effect on your beliefs.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong. Even just psychologically, how can you ever think freely, separate from the twin influences of prior experience and other people?

From this perspective, all of our behaviours and our desires are profoundly influenced by outside forces. But does this mean they aren’t also our own?

The answer to this dilemma, I think, is not to free yourself from outside influences. This is impossible. Instead, you should see yourself and your ideas as the intersection of all the forces that come to play on you.

Some of these are shared – like our culture – and some are unique to you – your unique experience, your unique history and biology. Being a free thinker, from this perspective, means working out exactly what makes sense to you, from where you are now.

You can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore outside influences, but the good news is that these influences are not some kind of overwhelming force. All the evidence is compatible with the view that each of us, choice by choice, belief by belief, can make reasonable decisions for ourselves, not unshackled from the influences of others and the past, but free to chart our own unique paths forward into the future.

After all, the captain of a ship doesn’t sail while ignoring the wind – sometimes they go with it, sometimes against it, but they always account for it. Similarly, we think and make our choices in the context of all our circumstances, not by ignoring them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credits: Pixabay, Shutterstock (via theconversation)

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Dare to Think Differently

Dare to Think Differently

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

As many of my colleagues are aware, I am at heart, a maverick, an unorthodox or independent-minded person. Who is curious and inquisitive, and finds change and challenging the status quo exciting, fascinating and stimulating. I am also, considered, by some, as a misfit, someone whose behaviors and attitudes sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way, that often rocks the boat. There is a range of consequences for people like me, who dare to think differently, especially now that I have also achieved the status of a Modern Elder – “the perfect alchemy of curious and wise, with curiosity leading to expansive inquiry while wisdom distills what’s essential.”

Coupled with both the challenges and constraints of the currently disrupted Covid-19 and digitized world, I am finding that the consequences of being different have intensified, become more impactful, and are often, quite confronting. Where differences cause resistance to change, divisiveness, and conflict, rather than maximizing differences in ways that embrace our humanity, diversity, to harness collective intelligence to make the organization, or world a better, more inclusive, and safer place.

Diversity is of the Essence

According to Jonathan Sacks, in his book “The Dignity of Difference- How to avoid the clash of civilizations,” he states that “we are living in the conscious presence of difference”.

Which exists in the home, in the street, in our workplaces, communities, and countries where we constantly encounter groups and cultures whose ideas and ideals are unlike ours. “That can be experienced as a profound threat to identity. Identity divides.” Considering that “the world is not a single machine, it is a complex, interactive ecology in which diversity – the biological, personal, cultural and religious – is of the essence.”

“When difference leads to war, both sides lose. When it leads to mutual enrichment, both sides gain.”

As is currently being evidenced by the tense and tentative Ukrainian and Russian border confrontation, with its potentially tragic consequences. Where Yuval Noah Harari states in a recent article in The Economist – “At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a fundamental question about the nature of history and the nature of humanity: is change possible? Can humans change the way they behave, or does history repeat itself endlessly, with humans forever condemned to re-enact past tragedies without changing anything except the décor”?

People Who Dare to Think Differently

Adam Grant, in his book “The Originals – How Non-Conformists Change the World” describes an original (n) as “A thing of singular or unique character; a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way; a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity”.

The book goes on to explain strategies, through studies and stories how to champion new ideas and fight groupthink, in constructive ways that maximize diversity and differences and promote dissent, as the basis for cultivating original thought to effect positive change.

Ray Dallio, in his book Principles explores this further, suggesting that “if you are like most people, you have no clue about how other people see things and aren’t good at seeking to understand what they are thinking because you’re too preoccupied with telling them what you yourself think is correct.” Often causing divisiveness rather than inclusion, resistance to change, and as a consequence, missing the possibilities and opportunities that may be present.

This also impedes our overall adaptiveness and creativity in an exponentially changing, world, to make real progress, and constructively change and limits the potential for innovation, growth and ability to contribute to the common good.

Change Management Has Changed

In a recent article from the Boston Consulting Group, they stated that  “Effective change management requires leaders to shift away from one-size-fits-all approaches and develop an expanded set of context-specific strategies”.

Which are truly adaptive, collaborative, energize, catalyze change, harness, and mobilize people’s and customers’ collective intelligence, in ways that are appreciated and cherished by all, and contribute to the common good.

To ultimately collectively co-create a set of different, empowered future-fit leaders, teams, and organizations – who courageously, compassionately, and creatively contribute toward an improved future, for customers, stakeholders, leaders, teams, organizations as well as for the good of the whole.

Welcoming Dissent and Thoughtful Disagreement

At ImagineNation™ we dare to think differently and teach train, and coach people and teams to maximize their potential to lead, manage, coach, through implementing and embedding change and innovation, differently.

We enable people to lead in the imagination age by empowering, enabling, and equipping them to be and think differently to:

  • Flow with some people’s need to be “right” and in control, when they are being defensive, abusive, and divisive, even when disagreement and conflict occur.
  • Artfully and skillfully use cognitive dissonance and creative tension to pull people towards a new possibility and envision a new and compelling future.
  • Be inclusive to support mutual enrichment, through co-sensemaking, that helps them create “order” (in their own context) and simplicity from complexity and change.
  • Self-regulate and self-manage emotionally in the face of uncertainty and volatility.
  • Be relatable, empathic, inspiring, and artfully and skillfully influential in helping people open their minds and hearts toward co-creation, collaboration, and experimentation that ensures a shared contribution for mutual gain.
  • Be creative and inventive to maximize their multiple and collective intelligences through learning, contrarian thinking, constructive debate, and creative conversations that generate discovery.

In ways that engage deep generative listening, inquiry, questioning, and differing that uses cognitive dissonance to unleash the creative energy that triggers and generates thinking differently.

When people are trusted and empowered to think differently, they co-create a frequency that allows, awakens, and activates their adaptive and innovative leadership qualities, consciousness, states, and qualities of mind and heart, to effect positive change.

Taking wise and intelligent action

It also enables them to wisely choose the most intelligent actions that result in adaptive and innovative outcomes.

This helps creativity to flourish and disrupts and interrupts those people, whose complacency, conformity, and rigidity create divisions, and feelings of desolation and exclusion that kill our capacity and competence to collaborate, create and invent.

Leaving me to wonder and inquire;

  • What if the “strangers” among us simply listen, with open minds and open hearts to the thought, feelings, and opinions of others, with both curiosity and detachment?
  • What if we could collectively co-create safe containers and collective holding spaces, that maximize our differences and diversity, and simply share a creative conversation about what could be possible?
  • How might we maximize our diversity of thought, to enable us to think differently about the issue, opportunity, or problem in ways that supported differences for mutual enrichment?

There is no wisdom on one point of view

Might this result in a deeper connection when there is polarization between people?

Might it be possible to co-sense and co-create a sense of inclusion, and an opening for a deeper philosophical exploration and discovery for thinking differently about the role, nature of and impact prescriptive points of view on how people truly feel, really think, and deeply act in our globalized and connected world?

Might it help us collectively to co-create making it a better place?

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, May 4, 2022. It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and to upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique context. Find out more.

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Re-Thinking for a New Era

Re-Thinking for a New Era

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our last blog, we proposed, rather than living in a world where everyone hates to fail, why not adopt a rethink, respond, regroup, thrive pattern, and experience failure as an opportunity for change, unlearning, and re-thinking? Adopting this approach supports your human-centricity and enables you to become future-fit through developing your set of 21st-century superpowers in the face of the acute disruption of COVID-19. This is reinforced by Adam Grant, in his book “Think Again” (the power of not knowing what you don’t know) where he states that we are living in a time vital for re-thinking to help us become adaptive and agile and develop our future fitness to thrive in a disruptive, uncertain world.

Critical Art of Re-Thinking

The critical art of re-thinking involves being actively open-minded, hearted, and willed:

  • To learning, and possibly re-learning how to effectively question your own beliefs, mindsets, assumptions, opinions, and habits;
  • Through connection, association, detachment, and discernment to these qualities in other people’s minds and hearts;
  • And to then put our “mental pliability” and “emotional agility” to the test by creating the time and space for re-thinking with a new “set of goggles” and revising our views based on what we learn.

This potentially benefits everyone because it allows us to upgrade and update our points of view and expand our understanding of the world, we are all living in today and build our future fitness.

It also positions us for change innovation and excellence in the way we transform our approach to work and share our wisdom in life.

Making time and space for re-thinking

  • The vital role of unlearning

Embracing human-centricity and a future-fit focus involves unlearning and letting go of many of our old beliefs, mindsets, assumptions, opinions, and habits embedded in our habitual feeling and thinking systems.

Being able to discern which of these are now incomplete, ineffective, and irrelevant as we adapt, and serve people, teams, and organisations to survive, grow, and develop future fitness to thrive in the post-Covid-19 world.

Unlearning is not about forgetting, it’s about paying deep attention and developing the awareness to see, and safely and courageously step outside of our old thinking systems, mental models, biases, and paradigms.

  • Being intellectually humble

Being intellectually humble involves “knowing what we don’t know” and being inquisitive and curious enough to explore new discoveries, and pay deep attention, and be consciously aware of the rich and valuable rewards to be found in the “unknown”.

Most of us are unconsciously motivated to move away from change and learning as a result of “blindness” to our learning or survival anxieties (Schein), and the need to cover up our “learning incompetence” (when people pretend to know things they don’t).

The willingness to be actively open-minded, hearted, and willed and embrace intellectual humility helps us see things clearly and moves us towards overcoming our blind spots and weaknesses.

Re-Thinking in a Disconnected and Disruptive Era

  • Thinking, fast and slow

Daniel Kahneman, in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” describes the “machinery of … thought,” dividing the brain into two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which “respectively produce fast and slow thinking.”

For our purposes, at ImagineNation™, in our group, leadership, and team coaching programs, these can also be thought of as intuitive and deliberate thought.

  • Introducing System 3 thinking

My colleague, Peter Webb (www.peterjwebb.com), has added to this work by researching and validating a System 3 which he describes as considerative, which is complementary to our approach to thinking differently at ImagineNation™.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. it is intuitive, quick, and emotional.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. It is deliberative in that is rational and calculated.
  • System 3 thinking is more considerative, thoughtful, and consequential in that it enables you to focus on what really matters, discern what makes common sense, make small decisions and take small actions to find out what works best, be compassionate, regulate your emotions and develop a tolerance for divergent values.

You can explore more these three thinking systems, and initiate your own re-thinking process by contacting Peter at https://www.peterjwebb.com/

Initiating Your Re-Thinking Strategy

  • Developing a habit of reflective practices

Our innovation coaching, leading, and teaming learning programs involve developing a regular reflective practice –which according to Turner, Lucas & Whitaker, in the learning and coaching context is:

“the ability to step away from your work and identity patterns, habits, strengths, and limitations in your work, and/within the system you work in.”

  • Pause-retreat-reflect cycle to catalyse re-thinking

At ImagineNation™ to initiate the re-thinking process, through partnering with clients to be actively open-minded, hearted, and willed through our “pause-retreat-reflect-reboot” cycle.

To support the development of the new habit, we include:

  • A personal reflection practice involves initiating or continuing a mindfulness activity.
  • A set of regular reflection activities which include different sets of reflective and generative questions.
  • Journaling processes, incorporating the CCS Cards for play and critical reflection for our clients to experiment with.

This involves practicing a set of regular retreat and reflection activities involving safely and intentionally enabling people to deeply listen and question and paradoxically dance across the 3 thinking systems simultaneously.

Enhancing your own and your team’s capability to do this will transform your approach to work, harness people’s collective intelligence to share their wisdom in life with the world, and develop future fitness to master challenges and solve problems as they arise.

  • Shifting to re-thinking
  1. Interrupt their habitual “do-feel-think” cycles (doing stuff that may not deliver the results you want, feeling the awful emotions that result from mistakes, imperfection, and failure, then thinking what to do about it).
  2. Create “stop signals” to affect a pause, long enough to stop doing stuff and become present to the range of emotions to calm down their nervous system.
  3. Connect, associate with and acknowledge how they might be feeling at this unique and specific moment in time.
  4. Pay deep attention to observing their operating thought patterns, with detachment and discernment.
  5. Intentionally choose a desired future state or outcome.
  6. Consider the impact of their feelings and thoughts on the results they are getting.
  7. Deliberate, consider and quickly choose more resourceful visceral and feeling states that compels (pulls) and mobilise them to achieve the desired future state or outcome.
  8. Finally, deliberate, consider and quickly choose more resourceful thought and feeling patterns to choose the most intelligent actions to take to achieve the desired future state or outcome.

The result is usually the development of a re-thinking process that has evolved from “do-think-feel” to “feel-think-do” (connecting to a desirable outcome, feeling present, thinking about the most intelligent thoughts and actions to embody and enact to get there, saving both time and money on wasted activities, avoiding mistakes and failures, to get to their desired future state.)

A Final Word on the Benefits of Re-Thinking

Taking just a moment to pause-retreat-reflect catalyses our rethink, respond, regroup, thrive pattern and creates opportunities for change, unlearning, and re-thinking. It is also a vital ingredient towards developing peoples’ future fitness.

Enabling us to appreciate the value of tuning into ourselves and into others, to leverage our emotional and mental muscles, towards actively creating the space for evoking and provoking different options and creative choices.  Which better enable and empower us to re-think about being, thinking, and acting differently in a new age, impacted by the technologies created by accelerated digitization.

We can then perform at higher levels, achieve our desired outcomes and goals, interact, lead and team more effectively and develop functional and highly valued collaborative relationships with others, as well as with stakeholders and customers.

To leverage the current turning point, and develop our 21st-century superpowers, to co-create a more equitable, resilient, sustainable, human-centric, and future-fit environment, within an ever-changing landscape.

Join Our Next Free “Making Innovation a Habit” Masterclass to Re-Engage 2022!

Our 90-minute masterclass and creative conversation will help you develop your post-Covid-19 re-engagement strategy.  It’s on Thursday, 10th February at 6.30 pm Sydney and Melbourne, 8.30 pm Auckland, 3.30 pm Singapore, 11.30 am Abu Dhabi and 8.30 am Berlin. Find out more.

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.