Lately, we’ve been talking about something that Ann Herrmann-Nehdi calls “rut thinking.” It’s just what it sounds like. It’s about getting stuck in a single-minded way of approaching a problem or tackling your work or even thinking about the future. It may feel like a shortcut because you’re “in the groove,” but from that narrow vantage point, it’s hard to get a clear view of what’s really going on all around you. And that makes it even harder to find a potentially better way forward.
While there’s something to be said for specialization and a laser-sharp focus, like any good thing, too much of it can be a problem.
At Herrmann, we’re fortunate to have a number of channels to help us get a wider view so we can crowdsource and cross-pollinate ideas. Slack is one of our favorites. Just in the past week alone, it’s allowed us to have impromptu brainstorming sessions on topics for speaking engagements, share information relevant to an upcoming meeting, and chat about the feedback on our new products.
Whether they actively chime in on or not, people from across functions and departments can read—and learn—from these discussion threads. It’s a great way to tap into the diversity of thought around us and spark our own thinking.
But you also have to venture beyond the four walls (literal or virtual) of your company. Last month, I had the opportunity to do just that, attending the Sales and Marketing Conference that ISA–The Association of Learning Providers puts on every other year.
The variety of speakers and panel discussions both challenged and validated some of the things we’re doing. Just as powerful were the informal conversations I was able to have with my peers in other organizations. We had the chance to share our experiences about what’s worked—and what’s flopped—and think about what lies ahead.
One of the speakers we heard from was Patty Beard, VP of Leadership & OD at Dick’s Sporting Goods, who discussed some key issues she’s been thinking about and talking over with her own peer network.
Among the top L&D needs for executives? How to be more visionary, forward-thinking strategic thinkers.
Her solution to this problem is, in essence, to get them out of rut thinking.
“We want them mingling with other leaders at their level—not just in retail,” Patty told us, so they can learn from others, build their networks and get a more global perspective.
In the Groove—or Stuck in a Rut?
One tactic Dick’s is taking is to encourage leaders to participate on the boards of other companies. I asked Ann for some additional mind hacks anyone can use to keep from getting stuck in a rut. Here are a few of her suggestions:
- Allow time for thinking. It might seem like a luxury to stop and think, but thinking is your most important job! Create space during your day to reflect, even if it’s only five minutes, and write down your most important insights, questions and answers.
- During the day, pause to ask what kind of thinking is most appropriate to the task at hand. Consciously choose when to analyze, organize, personalize and strategize. When solving a problem, mentally walk through each mental process.
- Seek out new perspectives. When solving problems or asking for feedback, we usually seek out people who are mostly likely to confirm our opinions. Yet there are times when we need a contrary perspective to get results. Intentionally seek out those who think differently or have different backgrounds and experiences. Read magazines or listen to podcasts that are outside your niche. Pick up a book in a genre you don’t normally read or that challenges your world view.
- Approach situations as a learner not a knower. The “curse of knowledge” can keep you stuck in patterns of thinking that may not fit the situation or changing circumstances. To bypass this, take an idea that you’re certain is true and restate it as a question that invites further thinking. For example, “I’m sure that the best time to write is first thing in the morning” becomes “Is it true that the best time to write is first thing in the morning?”
Chris Rock once said, “Comedians tend to find a comfort zone and stay there and do lamer versions of themselves for the rest of their career.” With so much to do and so many distractions, it’s only natural to want to hunker down and cozy up inside our thinking comfort zones. But is that really all we want—out of our careers and out of our lives?
I don’t know about you, but I find that both are a lot more fulfilling when I’m stretching myself and getting a little help (or pushback!) from the diversity of thought of my friends, family and colleagues, inside as well as outside of Herrmann. It’s not always the easiest path, but it always gets me thinking. And it definitely gets me out of that rut.