One of your greatest superpowers is your ability to identify the underlying structure in any situation. We experience many situations that, while the details vary, the overall theme and structure is the same. Maybe the challenge of helping your child ace “core” math (aka “the new math,” the one we didn’t learn in school) is stressing you. Though so might be a challenge at work, learning to be successful with a new operation. Without considering the structure, you may focus on one or the other, seeing them as so different that there could be no common ground.
Yet when you peel away the specifics, when we look for the underlying theme of each, the similarities emerge. Consider that of all the movies you’ve seen in the past few years, there are only a handful of such themes, and each movie tends to fall into one or more categories. Each story built around a theme, regardless of the specific details.
Using that same approach, Structural Thinking, you can find the commonalities in the work situation and the one with your child’s “core” math needs. By not getting lost in the details, you can determine how to best meet the challenge of that common theme. Perhaps you notice an emotion or thought “blocking” you as you approach either or both. I’ve had clients report feeling “frustrated,” “overwhelmed,” and that’s how you can begin. If you have multiple challenging situations in your life, ask yourself what emotions you feel.
Let’s use the examples I just mentioned–you’re trying to cope with the challenges of helping your child do their “core” math homework. And at the same time, your company has asked you to take on an entirely different sort of project. This isn’t the way you did things before, so it’s foreign to you.
By the way, that latter scenario often occurs when your company’s leadership reads an article or book that gives them a great new idea. Sometimes that works out great. And sometimes–
And to be honest, it can also happen when a consultant is hired to evaluate a struggling team, teach new skills, and make recommendations for continuous improvement. That’s one of the things I do, and I’ve been very successful in that. My teams, my clients, succeed.
One of the things I do in those consulting projects is something I’ll cover in a future article, an Ecology Check. I ensure that, if I’m introducing a radical new idea, I make sure it’s going to fit really well with the way the company operates. By that I mean that, when the employees learn the skill or adopt the behavior, it will only help my client, their employer. But I take it a step further. I ensure that this fits into the way the employees treat the rest of their lives. This is because when most consultants do corporate work, they fail to consider a very big landmine–what happens when the newly-coached employee “goes home.”
For a change the company wants–but won’t work “at home,” it’s necessary to create a construct in the employee’s mind. They must “get” that they have two personas–or “reality-lites,” in a way. They have a mindset they will embrace for their employer may not work equally well at home. (Before saying anything in your mind against this, realize that we all already do this. Though usually with much less conscious awareness. I want you to choose what you do.)
Either way, we need to adapt in both situations. Arguing with your child’s teacher about “real” math won’t work. I have lots of friends who’ve tried it. Similarly, once the project is assigned, if it doesn’t exactly fit what you’ve done before, you must adapt.
In either case, the structure of each situation may offer other commonalities. The point to Structural Thinking is that, once we identify what those challenges have in common, we can develop a common strategy for dealing with them both. This saves time and effort, but there’s also a synergy among these structurally similar situations. Let’s begin with your child’s Math… Assuming you don’t already know the “new math,” you have to learn to do something in an entirely new way. This is something that you may know to solve the way you’d been taught. Though not this way. You must now learn this new approach and then you’ll be able to help your child as you like.
And as you do flex your brain to learn a new way, you may have an “aha” moment which inspires you. You might also notice a strategy that helps you accomplish this goal. Applying Structural Thinking, you may realize that this same strategy may also help with your work assignment. The great part is that, thinking solely of the requirement for work, that strategy may not have otherwise occurred to you. This is the powerful application of parallel processing, solving two problems simultaneously by reducing them to only one: their shared structure. This is where you may appear to be multitasking. In truth, human consciousness doesn’t truly multitask. We begin a process, move our focus to another, then work on that. If they each have a process we only initiated, as opposed to actively having to do the work, we may be successful at this. But we are at no point actually solving two problems at once. Enter Structural Thinking. Once we take those two scenarios and break down their structure, we may find three or four tasks to perform. If those are the same, or very close to it, we simply perform those tasks, sequentially. Since our work applies to both situations, we have seemingly multitasked.
Leverage this capacity not only for greater efficiency, but also to take larger steps as you move forward.
Structural Thinking also makes it easier to assess new problems as we can quickly scan our minds to find structurally similar problems we’ve already solved. Play with this and notice the gains and improvements in every area of your life.
Copyright © 2022 Chris Gingolph