This week, I present a challenge.  I need each of you, individually and collectively, to help figure out how to eliminate our 4 million dollar budget deficit over the next three years.  Addressing our deficit will take a multi-faceted approach with new ways of thinking.  Unfortunately, it’s natural to rely on comfortable, familiar ways of thinking during difficult times. The old familiar ways, however, may not be appropriate for new challenges. In my blog entitled, Treading Water, on September 10th 2010, I referenced Tim Hurson’s book Think Better when writing about reproductive thinking and productive thinking.  This blog builds on that information – here’s a reminder:  

Reproductive thinking is seen when a question is asked and the conditioned response answers are given. These are answers that may have been used in the past, ones that people grabbed onto quickly because they were comfortable or familiar. Unfortunately, while the problem may seemingly be “solved,” the familiar solution leads to the end of thinking and better approaches are never discovered.

Productive thinking comes after all of the conditioned response answers are given. Tim writes about breaking deep-thinking sessions into thirds when seeking solutions to problems. The first third usually contains reproductive thinking, the second third might have some good ideas in it, but the final third is where you find the gold. Creative, out-of-the-box thinking only comes after reproductive thinking is out of the way. Tim once said, “The questions from which you learn the most are the ones you don’t know the answers to.” This statement invites you into the final third of the thinking process where neurons have to sweat.

Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky addressed another aspect of thinking in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.  They wrote about technical and adaptive challenges, concepts I discussed in our EHHS divisional meeting this semester.  With technical challenges, there is a clear definition to the problem and a clear solution.  This is a problem that someone in authority can recognize and “fix.” With adaptive problems, definition of the problem often requires learning as does the solution.  Our budget deficit is not a technical problem.  We must use “productive thinking” as we face our adaptive challenge to reduce the deficit through cuts, efficiencies, and new revenue streams.  All of this must be done in a way that stays true to our values.  This challenge does not have a clear path; this is why, as much as possible, we must create a new path together.  

Together, we must gain a new perspective.  Sharon Parks, in her book Leadership Can Be Taught, quoted Ron Heifetz as saying, “you are on a dance floor, swept up in the dance, and active participant in a complex scene. There are some things about the dance that you will only know by actually dancing. But if you move to the balcony for a while, you can see things that you can never discover on the dance floor – the larger pattern of interactions of which you are a part.  You gain perspective and can make new choices.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the dance, especially when you already know all the steps.  The song that we all used to dance to has changed.  I’m asking that we each stand on the balcony, individually and in groups, to gain a better perspective.  A new perspective, along with productive thinking, will lead to new possibilities.  I’m more than happy to stand on the balcony with you to talk about possibilities and am open to all ideas around efficiencies and new revenue streams.  I have a growing list to which I would love to add your ideas. 

   Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

   Hurson, T., (2007). Think Better: An innovator’s guide to productive thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.

   Parks, S.D. (2005). Leadership can be taught: A bold approach for a complex world.   Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.