THE THINKING PATH - PAGE TWO
FROM THINKING TO RESULTS
Most observers would agree that the plant manager’s speech (his action) produced lower employee morale (his result). To the plant manager, however, the speech felt “right” and he delivered it intentionally to produce the exact outcome that was experienced and witnessed by all. Interestingly, a month earlier this same individual had received fairly negative feedback about these types of behaviors on his 360-degree performance review. And although this was the first time the organization had deployed a 360-degree feedback program, it was not the first time he had heard this feedback. And it was not the first time he had been told that these behaviors could damage his career.
What could a coach do to help this plant manager and how could the Thinking Path be of service? The obvious answer is that the coach would help the plant manager avoid producing such negative results by shifting his actions. To achieve this, the coach would help him change the source of his actions and results: his thinking and feelings.
Consider that the origin of the plant manager’s actions lies in his thinking. His answer to my colleague’s question makes his thinking visible: “You always have to find something wrong. Good feelings don’t drive productivity and performance.” Furthermore, my colleague noticed that just prior to making his statement the plant manager appeared anxious and impatient. The Thinking Path framework suggests that these feelings of anxiety and impatience were a product of his thinking.
Human beings think. We think all the time. It is a central factor in our lives; our experience of reality is shaped by the moment-to-moment flow of our thoughts. One way to define thinking is as the reception and processing of external and internal data in order to assess and interpret the world within and around us. Of course, thinking also encompasses the much broader phenomena of human consciousness or awareness. Because of my long study of neuroscience, however, I am inclined to emphasize the cognitive aspect of thinking and the functioning of the brain that underlies it.
It is said that the human body—not only the brain but also the nervous system and all the sensory apparatus connected to it—processes billions of bits of data every minute. These data are received through our senses and are processed, interpreted, and put to use. New data are received, stored, and held as archival memory for later use. Familiar data are matched to the archival memory information in order to be understood.
The brain’s primary function is to receive and store data within its networks and to activate specific networks once the data is presented. From the moment our brain is formed in the fetus, it uses the neurons resident within the brain to begin the process of coding the data it receives by creating neural pathways within predisposed regions of the brain. When specific units of data—such as a visual image, a sound, an odor, or a physical sensation—are received repeatedly throughout one’s life, specific neural pathways corresponding to these units of data become stronger, creating hard-wired paths of neural circuits. From this point on, when data are presented to a human being, the brain responds by activating or “firing” specific neural pathways across the various regions of the brain that are predisposed to interpret these data. These neural pathways provide a perception of the data, which can then be interpreted and understood. This process occurs continuously in real time, providing us with the ability to make sense of our surroundings.
The advantage of thinking is that we can use what we already know to make sense of confusing and complex data instantly. As we do this, we create meaning, make decisions, and then take action.
Thinking is what allows us to function and produce results.
Thinking is highly complex phenomenon, and it would be impractical to provide a comprehensive review of all that is known about it in this chapter. I also find that most clients are not interested in such a review and seek a simple and practical way to work with their thinking. To this end, I would like to introduce a short-hand, nonscientific, and practical term, thought habits, that allows clients to work with their thinking in terms of specific units of thought such as beliefs, knowledge, perceptions, assumptions, conclusions, etc.