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Rethinking what we know

“If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”

The upcoming generation is filled with talent, intelligence, creativity, enthusiasm, passion and a different way of thinking. We need to make sure we are not getting in their way, but helping guide the ship.

There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that goes something like this: “You cannot solve a problem with the same level of consciousness that created it.” This seems to make a lot of sense, but how does one go about moving to a different level of thinking?

The speed of change seems to be accelerating. Somehow we need to become more adept at keeping up.

Take this publication for example. It was not that long ago that there was one way to read Cattlemen articles. That was monthly when the magazine arrived in your mailbox. Now we can receive the news and information in many different ways on several different platforms and it can be almost immediate and can happen anywhere. Mind-boggling really.

Being in the livestock industry, or agriculture for that matter, means we seem to constantly be encountering new challenges. No year is like another. Mother Nature makes sure of that. The dry conditions of 2021 have some reflecting back to ’02 and ’03. For some, it is that severe.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, in his book Think Again writes, “If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”

He goes on to say: “Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking. Rethinking is a skill set, but it’s also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and dust off the rust.”

Rethinking can also be an important part of the business succession process. Considering that the next generation most likely has a different skill set, passion and vision, it only stands to reason that our operations are going to look different with different leadership. As the senior members, we must let go of the notion that the business is going to stay the same. The upcoming generation is filled with talent, intelligence, creativity, enthusiasm, passion and a different way of thinking. We need to make sure we are not getting in their way, but helping guide the ship.

Another valuable tool to help us be mindful of our thinking comes from the Six Hats of Thinking by Edward De Bono. It is a communication and reasoning tool and particularly helpful in groups or teams:

  • The white hat will show you how to look at things from an objective, neutral and unbiased point of view.
  • The black hat represents the logical-negative side and looks at how things might go wrong.
  • The green hat demands originality, creativity and making the impossible possible.
  • The red hat is the emotional, feeling hat.
  • The yellow hat brings a logical-positive focus.
  • The blue hat is all-encompassing. It represents structured thought and can be your guide and the centre.

Many of us have tendencies to particular hats. When working together as a group it is helpful to stop and identify which hat one is using and make an intentional choice to switch to a different one.

In psychology, there are two relevant biases. One is the confirmation bias, seeing what we expect to see. The other is the desirability bias, seeing what we want to see. Think: “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

We need to be actively open-minded, searching for ways we might be wrong, and revising our views based on what we learn.

Grant also references the most annoying things people say instead of rethinking: “That will never work here. That’s now what my experience has shown. That’s too complicated, let’s not overthink it. That’s the way we have always done it.” Do any of these sound familiar?

Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.

Using the fixed and growth mindset table (below) can be helpful to move us more towards the growth side. Of course, it may be easier to define where you think others are than to determine yourself.

For some of us the idea that conflict should be welcome, as it can help shift our thinking, is a tough one. Again, it’s about switching to the viewpoint that conflict can be positive. The process of working through a disagreement can help elevate thinking to another level and collectively come up with an entirely new and different solution. Frame the discussion as a debate, not a disagreement.

Grant has several different suggestions to help us develop our rethinking skills: seek out information that goes against your view; learn something new from each person you meet; build a challenge network, not just a support network; don’t shy away from constructive conflict; acknowledge common ground and make time to think again.

As COVID restrictions ease, there is a sense of joy and excitement in being able to gather. The field days that are being held provide an opportunity to connect, learn new things, network and see different ways of doing things.

Peer-to-peer learning and advisory groups are just two ways to help us grow and rethink. Definitely the more we learn, the more we realize what we don’t know.

I welcome the opportunity to be a columnist for Cattlemen. I hope to share ideas and thoughts that challenge you but above all make you think and continue learning. My involvement with holistic management has emphasized lifelong learning. Feedback and comments are appreciated and perhaps a dialogue can be created.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,” said George Bernard Shaw.

About the author


Kelly Sidoryk ranches with her family just west of Lloydminster, Alta. She consults in a number of areas including succession planning and holistic management.

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