Excerpt from Do the KIND Thing
Every morning, millions of men wake up, get dressed in suits, and put on a tie. They spend their whole day at work with a piece of cloth wrapped around their necks and hanging down to their stomachs. They accept as a given that this is normal business attire. The vast majority of them will go through their entire adult lives without ever questioning why they wear this thing around their necks, or how this fashion even came about. Why does it make sense that this long piece of cloth should represent elegance or professionalism? How did this custom get started? Certainly when we observe “strange” customs from other cultures— like the large wooden rings that some African tribes use to elongate their necks— we marvel at their foreignness or oddness. But we take for granted that our own customs are perfectly normal.
The most credible explanation for the origin of ties that I have found is that in the early seventeenth century, Croatian militias visiting Paris marveled at a Parisian fashion of wearing colored scarves around their necks. They adopted these as their uniform, wearing neck scarves “à la croate,” which then morphed into the “cravat” or modern-day necktie. But there’s no logical reason why, five centuries later, we should still follow this fashion, when our society has had no compunction about tossing out so many of the other customs that were accepted back then.
We live our entire lives taking so much for granted, and we tend to accept as givens many assumptions that are ripe for a challenge. It is in the daily routines of our business and personal lives that so many opportunities for creating value exist. The more entrenched the practice or custom, the more that it’s possible it may no longer be relevant. Critical thinking can help us question whether it is still (or ever was) an optimal way to do things. The AND way of thinking and methodology can help you quickly analyze those underlying assumptions and question whether they are valid, or whether you can introduce a better way to do things.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the assumptions behind any decision I make, and evaluating whether other options are available or need to be created. It is not a decisive style of leadership, and it can paralyze an organization if it is not complemented by swift and decisive leadership, which in KIND’s case is provided by our president, John Leahy, whose mantra is “speed to market.” But this contemplation can unlock value for important strategic opportunities. There’s a way to incorporate rigorous thinking into our lives. You can also teach your team to run a formal brainstorming process in which you think with AND. Over the years I believe we have become good at doing both at KIND. There’s still a long way to go; on a scale of 1– 100, I think we’re at 10. You have to ask yourself continually: “What are the underlying assumptions that are limiting me?” Sometimes those assumptions will be valid, but that’s how you have to start.
You just need to make it a practice to talk to yourself. We’re so busy that we tend not to even find that time. Whether it’s lying in bed before you sleep, or consciously choosing not to make phone calls while you’re commuting to work, give yourself time to mull over whatever you’re dealing with. I happen to use showers as a venue for unstructured thinking and for talking to myself. One of the biggest dangers of smartphones and other digital devices is that we don’t get a chance to talk to ourselves as much. We’re constantly getting stimulation, reviewing email, voicemail, and social media. We don’t give ourselves the time to let our minds go where they want to go. You need to block out time. If you can, structure your work life to have one hour during which you let your brain go every day.