Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Kristin Tabbert Uses Lateral Thinking to Maximize Her Clients' Performance

You may have never heard of Kristin Tabbert (until now) but what she can teach you can very well change the way you think - and how well you perform on the job.

Kristin is president and owner of Detroit-based K.L. Tabbert Performance Coaching, a company that teaches highly successful people how to elevate their performance. Kristin only works with people who are already very successful in their field. For these clients, she uses two lateral thinking techniques to change their way of thinking through a technique called "periodization," which takes them to entirely new levels of performance.

"Periodization" is a training technique originally designed for Olympic athletes who would use it to increase their skill sets. Here's how it works: over a short period of time, normally about four to six weeks, an athlete would work intensively on one or two skill sets to maximize performance in that area. Brian Moran and Mike Lennington (colleagues of Kristin's) of Strategic Breathroughs later borrowed this technique from Olympic trainers and fashioned it into a toolset for use in corporate America.

The first part of "periodization" is based on a useful provocation. "There are only 12 weeks in the year." Moran and Lennington realized the problem with annual goal setting based on 52 weeks is that people always feel there is plenty of time to meeting the goal. Shortening the time creates a far greater sense of urgency.

Facing a very short time period to hit a substantial goal, practitioners of periodization are motivated to try new things because of the stress created by the short-term goal. This is where Kristin's special coaching skills come into play. She uses the lateral thinking technique of challenge to help her clients examine their assumptions, dominant ideas, boundaries and other limitations. This technique frequently results in new, more constructive thinking that ultimately leads to new behaviors and new levels of productivity.

Having used her service for four months, I can say the results have been astonishing. I have seen significant changes in my thinking that have led to a substantial increase in my productivity. Additionally, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that not only has the quantity of my work increased, but the quality of my work has increased too. I have eliminated my "nice to do" things from my daily tasks and focused intently on those things that will truly benefit my clients.

I told Kristen recently, "You have given me no new clients, no new products, no new markets, and no new marketing budget. But you have given me new thinking, and that has made all the difference."

If you are interested in learning more about periodization, I recommend you read "The Twelve Week Year" by Moran and Lennington. Kristin can be emailed at

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Monday, August 22, 2011

What We Can Learn About Thinking From 16th Century Spaniards

I just got back from Mexico where I had a chance to visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum and learn about the local culture.

The Mayan's were a very advanced people. They mastered astronomy and architecture, and developed their own writing and mathematical systems. Among other things, they developed a sophisticated calendar that predicted the exact position of the planets hundreds of years in advance. The picture below is a structure that rests on the east side of the walled city of Tulum.

If you look closely at the top of the structure you will see what looks like an upside-down head. What is amazing about this structure is that on the equinox, as the sun rises over the horizon in the morning, the entire structure casts a large shadow. However through the tiny opening in the mouth, a beam of light passes. That beam of light illuminates a large spiritual statue a few hundred yards away.
This edifice was built over 1,000 years ago, yet the people were able to predict the exact time of the equinox (the day of the year when daylight and night time are equal) and construct a building that emphasized the sun's light in an exact way. An amazing feat!

Of course, when the Spanish landed in the Yucatan, they were not looking to find a sophisticated people who could teach them about astronomy, agriculture, and architecture. They assumed that the indigenous people were an inferior race and they set about exploiting them.

The Spaniard's thinking error was to look only for reasons to support their preconceived ideas. They expected to find an inferior race. When they saw the Mayan people, it was easy to justify their original impressions. The Spaniard's had superior weapons (gun powder). They were better at navigation and ship building and metallurgy. Besides that, the indigenous people looked different - a sure sign of inferiority in the Spaniard's eyes.

In "The Naked Portfolio Manager," I call this type of thinking error confirmation bias. One way to combat it is to actively search for reasons in which your preconceived ideas are incorrect or incomplete. Had the Spaniards done this, many of the atrocities that were visited on the Mayan people might have been avoided, and the thousands of Spanish soldiers that were killed in retaliation might have been spared. Alternatively (if it had been invented then), the Spanish could have used The Six Thinking Hats method and developed a more effective method of dealing with the native people.

Like the Spaniards, many of the things we believe in are either false, partially false, or are incomplete. Using a defined thinking strategy is the best way to avoid the pitfalls that can occur from poor thinking.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spelunking: A Faster Way to Learn The Six Thinking Hats

The Virginia Institute for Effective Thinking is always striving to find faster and more effective ways of teaching thinking. Linda Heath of Financial Holographix recently suggested an idea that I think will shorten the process of learning Six Hats Thinking a great deal. Her suggestion: use a spelunking hat as a metaphor for the entire process.

When viewing hats for the first time, some people mistakenly think The Six Hats Method is a way to convince someone that your way of thinking is correct. They treat hats as if it were something analogous to the five-step sales practice that Dale Carnegie Training teaches to get people to buy something. But Six Hats is not a way to convince someone to adhere to a particular line of reasoning. It is an exploratory process that reduces confusion by getting the whole group to think about one thing at a time.

The misunderstanding of how to use hats probably stems from the many years of critical or “I-am-right-you-are-wrong” type of thinking that is so endemic to our society. Students who are learning hats for the first time frequently ask me questions like, “I have a meeting with an important customer. How can I use Hats to convince him to buy my product instead of the competitor's?” Or they ask, “How can I use hats to convince my (boss, spouse, daughter, etc.) that we should do things my way?"

What I find so compelling about the spelunking metaphor is it emphasizes that hats are an exploratory process designed to shine the light on unexplored areas, and to help us go down some channels that have not yet been explored. While saying that hats is an exploratory process may be sufficient for audio learners, incorporating the spelunking hat or a picture of it should help kinesthetic and visual learners catch on much faster. Let me know your thoughts on this.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

Understanding the Nine Thinking Hats

I realize there are just Six Thinking Hats, but it has occurred to me that three of the hats actually have dual functions. It has also occurred to me that students might catch on quicker if each of the functions of the dual hats are taught separately.

While the white, yellow and black hats all have one basic function, it seems to me the red, blue, and green hats have dual functions that are quite dissimilar.

Let's take the red hat first, which deals with feelings and emotions. One part of the thinking process might be to get everyone to express their feelings about an idea. Yet the red hat is also a decision-making hat when used with intuition and gut instinct when sorting alternatives.  Six Thinking Hats facilitators first need to understand the emotions of the people in the room and this function of the red hat seems to be distinctly different from the "red hat sorting" (based on intuition or gut feeling) that occurs when we need to sort alternatives based on what choice offers the quickest results, is the easiest to implement, or provides the most long-term benefits.

When teaching hats, the red hat function of checking the emotions of everyone in the room should be introduced first and very early in the process. Only after the students have been introduced to the green hat (which represents a search for alternatives) should the second function of the red hat (to sort these ideas and select which ones to examine first) be introduced.

Likewise with the green hat. Students easily lean that the green hat is used to create alternatives, but it also has the critical function of fixing black hat concerns. We should first teach the green hat function of  searching for alternatives, and only after the black hat (which is concerned with risks and potential problems) has been taught, we should reintroduce the green hat and explain its second function, which is to address black hat problems.

Lastly, the blue hat is the organizational hat that controls thinking, sets the agenda, and monitors the process. After all of the hats have been introduced, we should then go back and explain the blue hat's additional function of drawing conclusions.

I think that teaching the red, blue, and green hats in this way will make it much easier for the student to learn all of the hats' functions. I would be interested in receiving feedback from anyone who has taught hats or been trained by a certified instructor as to whether they think this would facilitate the learning process.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Introducing the Viginia Institute for Effective Thinking

Writing "The Naked Portfolio Manager" made me realize that certain decision-making methodologies are simply more effective that others.

Long-time readers of my blog know that a tremendous body of empirical research supports the idea that rules-based decision-making is simply more effective than judgement-based decision-making since the rule sets are consistent and a person - being human - will frequently vary his decision-making criteria. Of course, naked decision-making only works if you have sufficient data and the time to develop an effective rule set.

Often we will need to apply a different type of thinking or will have a situation in which we do not have all the data we would like, or we need a creative type of solution for a problem. Developing models for these types  of situations is often impractical. This is why a couple of years ago I began searching out new types of thinking approaches that could be used to solve different types of business and personal challenges.

I founded the Virginia Institute for Effective Thinking (VIET) to educate, train and inspire Virginia's business and political leaders to use better methods to address the issues that we face today. Currently, I teach three thinking methodologies through the Institute. These are "Six Hats Thinking," "Lateral Thinking" and "Naked Thinking."

Think of these methods as new software for your brain. By installing this new software, your brain will gain new capabilities to solve problems and generate new ideas. The Virginia Institute for Effective Thinking will be providing many opportunities in the future to gain these new skill sets, so stay tuned!

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