Winning the Brain Game: A book review by Bob Morris

Winning Brain GameWinning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking
Matthew E. May
McGraw-Hill Education (May 2016)

How and why “seven flaws of thinking” prevent you from understanding yourself and the world in which you live and work

I have read and reviewed all of Matthew May’s previously published books and also interviewed him. Our friendship aside, I think he is one of the most insightful business thinkers as well as one of the most eloquent writers. In his latest book, he shares what he learned from a ten-year study that involved hundreds of interactive creative problem-solving sessions. More than 100,000 executives participated.

He explains how and why each causes so many problems and suggests a “fix” for it. Here they are, with six sharing the same prefix. More specifically, here’s how to correct your thinking after

1. Leaping to a premature conclusion: Generate multiple ways to frame the given issues.

2. Fixating on one solution to the explosion of all others: Shift thinking from the current reality of how things are in order to pursue the possibility of how they could — perhaps should — be.

3. Overthinking that creates problems that weren’t even there in the first place: Initiate prototesting, a combination of prototyping and testing. As Einstein suggests, “make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.”

4. Satisficing by glomming on to what’s easy and obvious to stop seeking the best or optimal solution: Use integrative thinking to merge the very best parts of 2-3 opposing but satisficing solutions “in an elegant mash-up that defeats the tendency to satisfice and settle for anything less than the best solution. The fix for Satisfying is thus: Synthesis.”

5. Downgrading to the point of wholesale disengagement from the given challenge: “The fix for Downgrading is Jumpstarting defined just as it is in the dictionary: starting a stalled vehicle whose battery is drained by connecting it to another source of power.”

6. Not invented here (NIH) happens: Eliminate that automatic, knee-jerk reaction to any idea developed elsewhere, the fix is from Procter & Gamble’s Connect and Develop innovation program: Proudly Found Elsewhere. This will open minds “to let in, leverage, and recycle the ideas and solutions of others,” whoever and wherever they may be.

7. Self-censoring: Eliminate further diminishment of you and your value (“mental masochism”); think of yourself (as Adam Smith suggests) as an impartial spectator to the given circumstances. “Psychologists refer to it as self-distancing, and as the name implies, the concept is one of distancing yourself from well, you.”

May devotes a separate chapter to each of the seven, thoroughly explaining their causes, possible consequences, and probable implications. He believes – and I agree – that anyone can live a much more creative life if (HUGE “if”) they are willing to re-think how they think when processing information and especially when making decisions.

Here is a mantra from May’s book, The Elegant Solution, that everyone should keep in mind when struggling to cope with a business world that seems to become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous each day:

“What appears to be the problem, isn’t.
What appears to be the solution, isn’t.
What appears to be impossible, isn’t.”

Most people cling to their self-serving biases, prejudices (pre-judgments), and delusions like Linus clings to his blanket. They cannot correct what they so tenaciously deny.

Matthew May provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that really can help almost anyone to become more mindful, to think more clearly and more logically, and to make much better decisions.

One other point: This is one of the most entertaining as well as informative books I have read in many years. Nine Einstein quotations are included. I conclude this brief commentary with one of them:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

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