Monday, March 9, 2020

A Model of Coaching for Wisdom

Associate Professor of Psychology, Igor Grossmann at The Wisdom and Culture Lab at The University of Ontario, Canada has been pivotal in establishing a practical framework for wise thinking that lends itself to coaching and mentoring. According to Grossmann and colleagues, “wise thinking is a skill. It is not simply an attribute of a person but rather a property of person-in-context. The potential for wise thinking emerges in the interaction of the person and their environment”.
Grossmann and colleagues have established that wise reasoning mediates the effects of age on wellbeing. In other words, just thinking wisely improves life. Wisdom needs to be considered in the context of everyday life according to Grossmann and colleagues. The central characteristics of wisdom have a dynamic component. Just because you are wise in one context does not mean you will be wise in another. Understanding the situational contingencies where wise thinking may lead to wise actions is vital to promoting wisdom.
For example, one way to buffer thinking against bias in cases where self-interests are unavoidable is ‘ego-decentering’. In other words, viewing events from a “fly on the wall” vantage point.
In situation-specific experimental conditions, Grossmann and colleagues have been able to demonstrate that wise reasoning varies across cultures (e.g., younger and middle-aged Japanese showed greater ability to reason wisely than their U.S. American counterparts), women are somewhat better at wise reasoning than men, and wise reasoning dips in middle-age (35-50) and then rises.
Grossmann has formulated a model of wise reasoning and a constructivist perspective on teaching wisdom. His framework of wise thinking in everyday life includes (a) intellectual humility or recognition of the limits of one’s own knowledge, (b) appreciation of perspectives broader than the issue at hand, (c) sensitivity to the possibility of change in social relations, and (d) compromise or integration of different opinions.
From the model of wise thinking, Grossmann and colleagues designed the Situated WIse reasoning Scale (SWIS) to assess responses to experimental situations. For example, under Weigh up uncertainty and change: “I looked for different solutions as the situation evolved”; under Intellectual humility: “I looked for any extraordinary circumstances before forming my opinion”; under Search for integration and compromise: “I tried my best to find ways to accommodate both of us; under Engage others’ perspectives: “I tried to see the conflict from the point of view of an uninvolved person”.
I modified some of these questions to make it easier for use in coaching and mentoring and came up with a WISE template of my own in 2018. Subsequently I have incorporated the Heath Brothers more pragmatic approach to making better choices – the WRAP process: Widen your options: uncover new possibilities and consider them simultaneously through multitracking; Reality-test your assumptions: ask disconfirming questions, zoom in and out; Attain distance before deciding: shift perspective and clarify core priorities; Prepare to be wrong: prepare for bad outcomes as well as good ones.
Modifying these descriptors leads to a revised WISE template for applying the 3rd System of thinking to help make effective decisions in complex circumstances. It helps to circumvent logical fallacies and cognitive biases, enables us to consider likely consequences in the short- and long-term, and it challenges our thinking to find outcomes which are more likely to benefit the common good:
W- Widen your view
Time pressure pushes us into grasping the first viable option. Often, there seems to be a stark choice - choose A or B. It requires much less effort to narrow the field down to a simple duality of options and then choose the least disruptive one. However, the truth is that there are many alternative scenarios that exist in "possibility land". We just have to step back, take some time, and widen the scope of our search for different approaches to the issue.

Useful coaching questions include:
·      "Instead of either/or, whether/or not, what other options are there?"
·      "What is most important to you right now"
·      "In what ways could your opinion be incorrect?"
·      "Who has solved this problem before (Google it)?"
I – Interrogate reality
We make assumptions and jump to conclusions too readily. Is the reality I’m seeing the same as the reality you’re seeing? Acknowledging the context and the “territory” within which the issue sits is an important prerequisite to knowing how best to evaluate the various options and which tools to use. Simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic contexts each call for different responses.
Useful coaching questions include:
·      ”What would have to be true for each of these options to be the best possible choice?”
·      ”What’s the biggest obstacle to this being the right decision?”
·      ”What am you prepared to give up for this option to become a reality?”
·      ”In what ways could this response fail?”
S - Sense what is emerging
Contrary to intuition or System 1 thinking, we need a way to move past the fluttering of emotion and allow a deeper understanding of the nature of the issue. Senior Lecturer in Work and Organizational Studies at MIT, and founder of the Presencing Institute, Otto Scharmer calls this "presencing" - observing the problem and sitting with it to see what insights emerge. The more complex the issue, the more we need to pay attention to emergent properties. Our familiar tools and resources for "fixing it" won't work. 

Useful coaching questions include:
·      "Imagine it is 6 months from now and this decision is a failure, why did it fail?"
·      "What is the essence of this issue (what is your deep knowing)?"
·      "What is the best possible future that I am bringing about?"
·      "What might other people think or feel who are watching me make this decision?"
E - Enact a way forward

However, it's possible to be too contemplative about the problem and not do anything about it. We need to take action. The best way is through a series of experiments, pilots, or prototypes to explore what will most likely be the best action to take. This is exactly what entrepreneurs do, they "fail forward and fail fast". Only through taking some kind of action will we learn what works and what doesn't – the process of “discovery-driven learning”.

Useful coaching questions include:
·      "What can I start doing, now?"
·      "What is an appropriate threshold for me to take action?"
·      "In what ways can I experiment or prototype these options?"
·      "What can I learn from this?"
The purpose of the WISE template and related coaching questions is to provoke wise thinking in relation to the particular issue or decision confronting the leader who is being coached or mentored. Used in this way, it might be expected to improve the likelihood that the leader will make wiser decisions across a broader range of problems.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The 6 Factors of System 3 Thinking for Making Wise Decisions!

Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, Daniel Kahneman, won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work on system 1 and system 2 thinking in “Thinking, Fast and Slow”The idea that much of our thinking and decision-making is subconscious, and automatic (system 1), as opposed to rational and deliberate (system 2). But he missed the observation by Japanese theorists, Professor Emeritus Ikujiro Nonaka at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University, and Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi, of the Management Practice in the Strategy Unit of Harvard Business School that there is a third system.
We typically rely on system 1 thinking because it’s automatic, fast, and experience-based. We use our innate or gut feel to quickly arrive at a decision that “feels right”. System 2 thinking is logical, rational, and fact-based. We use system 2 when we need to slow down and analyse the information to deduce a solution.
The third system on the other hand is a more ‘considerative’ way of assessing information and arriving at a decision. We use system 3 when we need to think about how to balance the various interests in the short and long term, and when dealing with complex and poorly defined problems that have multiple, unknown solutions. For example, deciding on a particular career path, accepting the death of a loved one, or solving long-lasting conflicts among family members.
Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego, School of Medicine, Dr Dilip Jeste and his co-researchers allude to the operation of a third system through various neuro-correlates. Wisdom is a multidimensional and adaptive human attribute based in distinct regions in the brain. Within the prefrontal cortex, there are three regions that are important – dorsolateral, ventromedial and there’s something that connects them – the anterior cingulate. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is like a proverbial father. This is the part of the cortex that tells us not to do things that are socially unacceptable or undesirable. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is like the proverbial mother – kind, compassionate. Usually the dorsolateral and ventromedial parts function efficiently and don’t always need a mediator, but when necessary, the anterior cingulate can be the conflict detector and sometimes, resolver.
Wisdom is balance. It is balance between the proverbial father-like thinking and the proverbial mother-like thinking, and also between cognition and emotion, between the oldest and the newest parts of the brain.
In my own research I have identified 6 psychometrically valid factors of System 3 thinking which are activated when we  make wise decisions. I describe the 6 factors of system 3 thinking as competencies, which implies they can be developed and enhanced through coaching and mentoring:
In their 2018 book, "The Mind of the Leader", authors Hougaard and Carter highlight the debilitating effects of distraction on decision making effectiveness. System 3 decision-making requires sustained, focused attention to meaningful tasks and activities, balancing mental activity with mental control. Cultivating the ability to focus in the midst of noise has been found to enhance productivity and minimize stress. Coaches and mentors can introduce mindfulness practice to improve this competency.
Life Experience
Life experience is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for system 3 thinking. However, wise persons are more likely to reflect on their own life lessons and the lives of others to make sense of what it means to live a good life, and to offer practical and non-judgmental advice to others according to Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, Dr Monika Ardelt. Coaches and mentors, drawing from the field of positive psychology, may demonstrate ways in which we can curate our memories and appreciate the course of our own life as a useful guide to what it means to live a flourishing life.
Paradoxically, an important capability of system 3 thinking is acknowledging uncertainty and ambiguity yet making quick and effective decisions; not suffering "paralysis by analysis". Under complex conditions decision-making is a series of experiments in which we learn something new. We should not be fearful of making mistakes but rather accept the entrepreneurial "fail forward" principle. Coaches and mentors can help build this competency in clients through fostering the techniques of a growth mindset to speed up decisiveness according to Dr Carol DweckLewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. While at the same time balancing decision speed with a recognition of the mind traps which leaders often fall into as outlined by Jennifer Garvey Berger.  
Compassion is the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Without compassion we cannot hope to face the collective problems of humanity and strive to do whatever is within our power to make positive change. Otherwise our decisions are confined to “me-first” and blind to the long-term consequences. Coaches and mentors can encourage self-compassion or suggest immersive experiences in which subjects are exposed to the suffering of others as a means of provoking compassion.
Emotion Regulation
One of the most critical capabilities of system 3 thinking is to recognize your feelings, yet not be overwhelmed by them. Control over emotions is not the same as the absence of emotions but rather having control over the intensity and variation in them, which yields a kind of contentedness. Harvard Medical School Psychologist, Dr Susan David distinguishes between emotional rigidity, “getting hooked by thoughts, feelings and behaviours that don’t serve us” and emotional flexibility, “being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so that you can respond optimally to everyday situations”.
Tolerance for Divergent Values
Dr Christopher Petersen, the Arthur F. Thurnau professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, and Dr Martin Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania founded the Values in Action Institute after identifying 24 character strengths and virtues we all possess to a greater or lesser degree. Acceptance of diversity allows for our own unique signature strengths, but also opens us up to understand why someone else might rely on different strengths. The key to system 3 thinking appears to be in having strong values "weakly held", which means we are more prepared to change our mind if new information presents itself.
As Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, Robert Sternberg pointed out in his balance theory of wisdom, “information processing in and of itself is not wise or unwise. Its degree of wisdom depends on the fit of a wise solution to its context”. Likewise, coaching for wisdom is not solely concerned with enhancing system 1 and system 2 thinking to make better decisions. Wise reasoning has been found to be malleable across people and contexts in everyday life. Everyone possesses wisdom resources to a greater or lesser degree. The coach or mentor can deliberately stimulate these resources to help the leader use system 3 thinking to make wise decisions. In time, this may give rise to the characteristics of wisdom in leadership.