September Brainstorm

Sep 03 2002 by Jurgen Wolff Print This Article

I am writing it shortly after returning from the Skyros Centre, where I taught my 'Create Your Future' workshop. What is most inspirational about these groups is that people dare to do things they have never tried before - whether it is Greek dancing, writing a short story, or pausing to figure out what they really want from life and how to get it.

There are four phases to mastering anything. If you feel stuck in any part of your life, it is important to know which phase you are in because that will determine the best way to move forward.

The first phase is Unconscious Incompetence. At this point, you do not know what you’re doing wrong, all you know is you are not getting the results you want. To move on, be precise about the outcome you want and accept that if whatever you have been doing is not giving it to you, then it is time to do something different. At this stage, getting an outsider (a therapist or coach of some kind) to help you see what you are doing can be helpful.

The second stage is Conscious Incompetence. Now you know what you need to do, but you do not yet know how to do it. At this stage, it is very helpful to find others who do know how to do it, observe them, and do it, too.

The third stage is Conscious Competence. At this stage, you are starting to get good at what you need to do - but maybe not good enough yet to get the results you want. This is the stage of practice, and you have to be prepared to hit some plateaus. Keep at it, notice what gives you the best results, and have faith.

The fourth stage is Unconscious Competence. By this point you are doing the right thing without even having to think about it. This is when you ride the bike or type the page or make the presentation and it seems effortless.

TIP: The next time you feel blocked in any aspect of your life, pause to consider which stage you are in and what action will take you to the next phase. Continue through the phases until the problem is solved.

Here is a quote from innovator Dee Hock: "The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it."

Hmm, easier said than done but here are three ideas for some mental clearing-out:

  1. Make a statement that is the opposite or reverse of what you believe to be true and consider what new ideas it makes room for. Example: People watch television. Reverse: Television watches people. New Idea: a TV game show based on how people behave when they do not know they are being watched (e.g., by CCTV cameras).
  2. Take one of your beliefs (maybe about your line of work, for example) and spend five minutes mentally finding as much evidence as you can for the opposing view.
  3. When considering a choice between two actions, assume that there is a third alternative you have not thought of yet. Brainstorm what it could be (you may find there are four, five, or six…).

There is a lot of emphasis these days on swinging into action fast, making mistakes so you can learn from them, etc. But at least one expert, banking project planner Chris Higgins, believes that the magic formula for best results is 50 percent planning, 25 percent doing, and 25 percent testing and training.

TIP: The next time you have a project, experiment with allocating more time than usual to the planning stage and notice the results. Higgins has another tip from his days with the military: be aware of what is common between projects and be prepared ahead of time for those.

My own version of this, for example, is to have a packing list for my business trips. At least ninety percent of the stuff I have to take along is the same every time, so it makes sense to have that ready and then just add the unique ten percent each trip.

TIP: Think about what is the same each time you undertake a project or task, and how you can systematise those elements so you can save time and reduce errors.

For most people, networking, if they do it at all, is kind of a random process. They go to events and hope to meet the people who will be useful to them in some way. It is much more effective to be very clear about what it is you need, and then figure out where to find the kinds of people who can give that to you. Of course you also need to figure out what you can offer them, so that it is a win-win situation.

For example, when I was starting out writing for TV and film, I noticed that most aspiring writers hung out with other aspiring writers. A much more fruitful thing was to hang out with aspiring directors and producers who might be in need of low-cost scripts to use to demonstrate their abilities (and, in the process, those of the writers as well).

TIP: Take some time to figure out what you need from other people, where those people can be found, and what you can offer them. Be prepared to give before you take.

Elaine St. James is the guru of living more simply. One of her rules is that no one can maintain more than three major priorities. For example, your career, your family, and doing volunteer work at a help-line.

Of course your choices might be different, and might relate to a hobby, or an aspect of self-development or fitness, for example. She says most people understand this rule yet keep over-committing themselves anyway, which leads to stress and not getting the results they want in their three top areas.

TIP: Stop to identify your top three priorities. When new things come up, before you commit to them, consider whether they will cut into the time and energy you need in order honour fully the three most important aspects of your life. If they will, say no.

BONUS TIP: As a way to avoid getting too many unnecessary material things, St. James suggests putting it on a list and delaying the purchase for 30 days. If you still want it in 30 days, get it, but you may find that by that point you have forgotten why you were excited about it in the first place.

"It is possible to own too much. A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure." - Lee Segall

Til next time, Jurgen

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About The Author

Jurgen Wolff
Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and hypnotherapist. His goal is to help individuals liberate their own creativity through specific techniques that can be used at work as well as at home. His recent books include "Focus: the power of targeted thinking," a W. H. Smith best-seller, and "Your Writing Coach".