Metacognition: thinking about thinking

By | January 12, 2017

Today I was speaking with some friends about metacognition. Yes, I realize that is a $10 word, but the idea is fairly simple on the surface – being aware of your own thoughts. Essentially, thinking about your thinking. Whoa – deep, I know.

Skill. Consultants pride ourselves on being skilled and competent – at Excel, at PowerPoint, at benchmarking research, at facilitating workshops. Yes, we do some things well.  This is level 1.

Context. So now that I you know something (e.g., creating bubble charts in Tableau), do you know when to use it? Or, do you fall in the mistake of many of us, who use it a little blindly, hoping that your framework fits Cinderella’s slipper?

So what? Now that we have the skill and the context, have we figured out what it means?  Simply creating a slide, graph, table, or trend does not a insight create. What does it mean literally (yes, market share is going up) and what does it mean within the larger business model?  What is the order of magnitude? is it a 1 or 10 or 100 size problem?

What are we missing? Let’s think about the constraints, trade-offs, and dependencies. What needs to go right for our recommendation to stick? What could go wrong? Who needs to be involved? What is the right time to kick off this initiative? Who else can I lean on to vet this idea?

Executives see the bigger picture. Someone said this today, and I really dig this. Yes, executives are paid more because they take more of the burden – for decision, for lives, for risk, for winning. They need to think longer-term.  Strategic.  They need to see the forest, not the trees.

Are you looking at trees or the forest?

Information diet. As most of you know, the world of news has become entirely self-service and polarized. If you want only 1 point of view – there is a TV station, radio station, and magazine for that. If you want exactly the opposite . . .there are outlets for that. Everyone is self-selecting their news and frankly getting a little bit dumber. At some point, we are indoctrinating ourselves with an echo chamber of only things we already believe in, and have biases for. Essentially, we are losing our critical thinking skills. When is the last time you changed your mind on something big?

Think. About. How. You. Think.

  • When is the last time you challenged your own thinking?
  • When is the last time you changed your mind on something big?
  • Do you welcome feedback?
  • Are there people you seek out who often disagree with you?
  • Do you see things only as black/white, or willing to deal with grey?
  • Do you know when it is time to STOP gathering data, and just make some assumptions?
  • Do you get offended when people disagree with you?
  • How clearly do you mark out the assumptions?
  • How intellectually curious are you?

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