The Traps And Transgressions Of Traditional Thinking


That won’t work for us because we are different than everyone else.

We’ve always done it this way. We don’t need to change. We’ve tried that in the past and it failed.

These are just a few of the traditional thinking excuses we face every day. Whether we are trying to create a new conference experience or consider a new association service, these excuses hold us back from improvements.

The Usual Suspects

Here are several traps of traditional thinking identified by Mathew May that can lead us astray. When a challenge comes our way, we typically digress into one or more of these traditional thinking traps.

We need to recognize them early in the process. It’s only then that we can name them and neutralize them in order to embrace innovation and new thinking.

1. Blinking To Solutions

Many of us leap to solutions when facing a problem. It’s part of our instinct.

We diagnose a problem after identifying the first or second symptom and then jump to a solution. Our mind defers to past experiences and patterns to shortcut the answer. So we just revert to the way we’ve solved it in the past.

Sometimes this works. Sometimes we need to resist the urge to a quick fix and analyze deeper before offering a solution. We need to reflect instead of blink.

2. Blind Spots

Blind spots are another term for our personal biases, experiences, reflexive thinking and mental frames.
Our brains form patterns based on personal experiences. Our brains defer to these blind spots as providing the right answer until that solution no longer works.

Consider aiming a remote at a TV to change the channel. We hit the channel button repeatedly waiting for it to change channels. Even when it doesn’t work, we continue to hit that channel button. We defend our blind spot because it worked that way in the past. It’s not until we are totally frustrated that we even consider checking the batteries.

In order to break the blind spot pattern we have to consciously focus hard on doing something differently. That requires a lot of mental work. We need to spend more time thinking about the why behind the what so we can frame our challenges without any assumptions.

3. NIH (Not Invented Here)

This thinking says, “If we didn’t invent it, it won’t work for us. Our organization is different.”

Consider this. During an eight-hour period, when the elevator button had already been pushed and was lit, 95% of the times people pushed it again says researchers sited by May. We just don’t trust other people’s solutions.

In the association sector, NIH thinking looks like this: Other associations may be having this problem and solve it this way. But not our association. We are different and therefore only our solution will work for us, even if it doesn’t work them.

4. Stifling

In some associations the only solutions and answers come from a command-and-control top-down approach. Subordinates’ ideas or solutions are ignored. Traditional thinking stifles, dismisses and second-guesses others’ ideas in favor of our own. We distrust the genius of others.

5. Downgrading

Sometimes, we twist and manipulate facts to suit our situation. Then we do a revised solution to the problem. We sell its upside and downplay the downside. We don’t like to feel that we didn’t succeed.

Here’s the twist as May says: You can’t reach Mars by shooting for the moon. You can’t win a football game my expecting a touchdown at the 70-yard line.

If you’ve actually done the hard work of identifying the root cause of your challenge, then you can identify a realistic solution to the problem.

Which of these traditional thinking traps stump you the most? What traditional thinking traps would you add to this list?

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  1. Austin says:

    Great article! Very well written and it was interesting hearing the author’s insights on these relevant issues. I admit, I am at fault for blinking to solutions too quickly, so thank you for the advice!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m having to retrain my brain not to jump to quick solutions and past ideas too. We so want to help others. I’m working hard at trying to understand the why behind the what. It’s so easy to blink and think solutions instead of rest and digest!

  2. I just shared this on my blog, prefaced by the comment that if I still had a conference room I would post this writ large on the wall.

    Can we turn this into one New Years Resolution or do you think we need all 5

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and writing. We appreciate all readers here at VCC.

      Great idea to make this part of our 2015 New Years Resolutions. Interesting thing is that I suspect there are actually more than 5. If we just keep our attention focused on not jumping to an immediate solution I think it might help.

  3. These are great. At FICP Mike Rayburn closed the conference and he noted how we also tend to “put problems on a pedestal and worship them” rather than seeking solutions – I think this is often true in organizations of all sizes, and the ideas you offer above are all good ways of rethinking how we face down those problems to come up with real solutions. You have done it again!

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