Archives for posts with tag: Thinking

We’ve all heard the statistic that we use about 10% of our brain’s total capacity, the inference being that, to the precious few and perhaps some of us mere mortals too, additional unfathomable powers are at our fingertips, or rather at our synapses.

One of the first lessons I learned on those graduate work programs was the power of positive thinking and, specifically, the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you go into a situation with a certain frame of mind, then that’s the result you will probably end up getting. Go in thinking you will lose and you will, go in thinking you will win and you will. What is unsaid in all this is whether you can influence the actual outcome with the power of your thought. Perhaps we’re tapping into the 90% at that point?

I’ve always liked the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy and I’ve used it myself, pretty successfully, before major events like sales meetings, prize-givings and so on. You can even use it for micro-events, like wanting to hit the treble twenty at darts or the outside corner with a tennis serve. If you imagine it clearly, and see it happening, it has a far better chance of happening. I’ve never found it works with gambling though…

The other day I was working away when an email pinged in with the results of a competitive bid process. My stomach did a small flip, as the bid was important to me. I relaxed, took 5 minutes to clear my other emails and then got to the award results email. I had a 1 in 4 chance of winning. Before I opened it I imagined reading the email awarding me the contract, and I even said the word ‘win’ a number of times in my head like a mantra.

I opened the email and found that I hadn’t won the contact. Just kidding! I had won, which was nice.

What is also interesting is that on the occasions when I have not been successful with the self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s because I have allowed doubt and negativity to intrude into my thoughts. Suspecting I might not have won was enough to poison the positive thinking.

Disclaimer: this does not mean you will win the lottery if you think positively as you buy the ticket or as each ball drops into the chute…


The next time you find yourself gossiping about someone, or getting sucked into a reality television program, or letting destructive thoughts about that so-and-so invade your good humour, remember these words from Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

Rise above it all. The air’s nicer up there. Easier said than done of course, but you gotta keep trying, keep pushing.

Where would we be without lateral thinkers? Nowhere, probably. I would imagine all of the major secrets of the universe – electricity, flight, trigonometry etc – have been unlocked by some dedicated soul, who, having exhausted the 99% perspiration embarks on a ‘gee, I wonder if I approached it from this completely different angle, what might happen?’

Take something that the vast majority of us have the good fortune to take for granted, seeing. I have always considered is something active, that we do to an object to see it. But no, some clever sausage figured out that it’s a passive thing, that the eye absorbs all the visual stimuli, and the retina, rods and cones do the rest.

That ability to genuinely think laterally, to think outside the box as the business world has coined for the last two decades, is a really rare phenomenon. It requires us to consciously abandon the traditional patterns of thought that have governed how we operate in the world since childhood, and come at things from a new direction.

For forty years Edward de Bono has pioneered – and I believe originated the name of – lateral thinking. I remember attending a talk by EdB along with a few hundred other paying guests in Dublin around the turn of the century. By the way, since 14 years have elapsed since the new millennium, I think we’re now at liberty to use the phrase ‘turn of the century’ without appearing overly dramatic. Mr de Bono eschewed the lure of powerpoint and used a rolling film of acetate where he scribbled his line-drawn illustrations before winding each drawing from sight, ready for the next clean canvas and blindingly new example of creative thinking.

This man’s work is nowhere near as theoretical as you might think, and he had dozens of examples of how he and his team had been retained by governments and corporations to solve some problem or other. His solutions were so left field that you were left breathless by the degree to which they put in stark relief how blinkered your own thinking was up until now. One example was a Swiss canton who wanted to solve a town parking problem where they didn’t want to use meters or police the parking, but they didn’t want folk abandoning their cars for hours on end either. The solution? All you had to do when you parked was leave your headlights on. ┬áCome back a couple of hours later and you risked a flat battery. Genius!

The business world has tried to adopt this approach of inspirationally cutting the Gordian Knot, with things like moderated ‘brainstorming’ sessions. With good reason too. We need these lateral thinkers, and these laterally thought out solutions, to keep turning the screw.