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Comments From a Manager

What Do You Think?

By Robert Milner

Recently, a colleague and I became embroiled in a heated conversation regarding how individuals enhance use of their minds yet do not exhibit that enhancement. My colleague's belief is that the majority of people use their minds daily; however, he did acknowledge they are not using them to their fullest potential.
I, on the other hand, believe that the majority of people do not use their minds, simply because they have never been disciplined to do so. Now, before you start writing letters to the editor, let me explain this statement.
My colleague's belief that individuals think all day is supported by the fact that he, for example, wakes up, gets dressed, showers, shaves, etc. I responded that this behavior does not entail thinking; it simply calls for remembering. Remembering is different from thinking. People react to stimuli, but that's still not thinking. When I refer to thinking, I am referring to thinking creatively, or thinking in new directions.
(Warning: The next couple of paragraphs could be very boring, but I beg you to keep reading, the secret has yet to be revealed.)
Plato believed that the process of thinking consisted of four stages:
1. Unsubstantiated imagination.
2. Believing in a possibility.
3. Hypothesizing a path forward.
4. Dialectic reasoning or argument as to whether it was the right path or not.
Aristotle had a less expansive view and sought to focus the thinker's energy on the fourth activity -- rational argument.
It has been stated the way most managers think today (when they decide to) is based on a linear system of thinking that has evolved from dialectic reasoning. This includes data gathering, analysis, judgment, argument and criticism.
The abovementioned statements are made to show the contrast between two great minds -- the contrast being that the thinking process must accommodate the possibility of knowing without proving. In lay terms, thinking must include intuition. Plato's approach has provision for intuition; Aristotle's does not.
After pointing this out to my colleague, he simply threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, "Whatever." My reply was simple, "What's the matter are you afraid you might have to think on that one?"
So how can a person learn to think?
The secret has worked for me all these years. (OK. I think it has worked for me. There I go thinking again.) Anyway, what has worked for me is as follows.
Usually in the morning, whether it be at home or at work, I sit with a cup coffee, pen and paper in hand. At the top of the blank page, I write down what it is I am trying to solve or a goal I am trying to reach.
I remember when I first starting doing this I encountered some obstacles, namely, this process of writing things down was not for the most part easy, and most of my ideas weren't that good. But I can now say that, after doing this for many years, it has become much easier and I have reaped many rewards following this simple process.
I remember someone once saying a person develops the muscles of their body by some sort of daily exercise, so why shouldn't we exercise our mind daily?
Now, I must admit that in the beginning most of your ideas might not be of any use. However, by engaging your mind every day or so, you will find your mind continuing to work all day. And, when you least expect it, a really great idea will suddenly appear. I am sure this has to do with the subconscious acting on some stimuli. BONUS if you are going to the PIE 2002 show in Chicago, you will learn what role your subconscious actually plays in your daily life. I have also experienced that once a good idea or solution is written down, many more begin to appear, and I am able to expand on the beginning of the solution.
You may remember an article I authored, "What Do Disney and A Flat Tire Have in Common." Well, the solution to our problem at that time came about using the pen and pencil process; the only difference was that it involved three other thinking minds.
I once told someone about this process. They, of course, not using their mind at the time blurted out, "I don't have an hour a day." So, I proceeded to pull out my trusty pen and pencil and broke down the hours of a week for him. Let's say the average person works 40 hours a week and sleeps 8 hours a night. Since we are all given 8,760 hours a year, that leaves each of us 3,768 hours of discretionary time to do with as we please. My point to him was I am sure he could spare a few of these hours.

Robert Milner is assistant director of parking and transportation for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has been in the private sector with both Central and Penn Parking. He can be reached at milner@admin1.umaryland.edu.

Article Abstract from March, 2002




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