Let’s think about thinking
Our instincts about thinking are in fact “rather poor”, behaviour change expert Nick Southgate told Digital Shoreditch in May. It turns out we tend to to overestimate how much thought other people give to things, and at the same time we underestimate how much others don’t think about things at all.
Southgate explained: “This means that we continue to use processes that are really not fit for purpose, or well designed for human beings.” Thinking about thinking is especially important for professionals in the business of getting people to do what they want them to do (like advertising, or public health promotion). According to Southgate, if you want someone to do something and you can do the thinking for them “they are vastly more likely to do it”.
Problem solving is a key component in the thinking business. He gave the example of school children being encouraged to read books by being told they will be paid by the page. Initially they wouldn’t know what to do, as the original instruction was not very specific, but once told which books to read the problem is solved and they are more likely to do it.
“It’s a tiny thing, but through life we just present people (with) problems, rather than presenting solutions”, he said. In Southgate’s view, the main challenge is that people believe thinking is a “magical act” instead of breaking the process down into simple rules which they and others can easily follow.
He said that with wider use of this more scientific approach: “a lot more people can do tasks really very well, and that reduces the reliance you have on those specialised people”.
In an era of painful skills shortages for London’s rapidly-growing small business community – alongside chronic youth unemployment in the surrounding inner city boroughs – that could be a very useful thought indeed.