How to let someone else do the thinking

I was having a drink with a friend outside on the porch the other night. As I sat snug under my lap blanket sipping a guava cider, she said that she was trying to figure out how to take “use it or lose it” vacation days and not end up working on those days anyway. “Be careful about Parkinson’s Law,” I said, sounding particularly erudite. “You’ll use the time you have no matter how you allocate vacation days.”

I had just read about Parkinson’s Law on the Model Thinkers website, a growing collection of mental models that describe how we think and behave. This is the type of website you didn’t know you needed until you find yourself going back to it on a daily basis. Arun Pradhan and Shai Desai have brilliantly taken the “big ideas from the big disciplines” and put them all in one place for us to help us work faster, smarter, and with greater impact.

Their timing is perfect. We’ve been hearing from nonprofit leaders that they are exhausted. They are suffering from many kinds of fatigue (discussed recently on the Nonprofit Radio Show), but mostly from having to think so much. Model Thinkers gives us a “think hack” so we can use other people’s thinking to move ourselves forward.

Here’s an example. It’s no secret that nonprofit people work hard doing hard work. So let’s slow down our thinking to imagine new solutions to complex problems. Let’s engage in double loop reflection that allows us to reframe our challenges. This is particularly important if the challenges are complex or chaotic, without clear answers. Over time we could develop a latticework of new mental models that shifts how we see problems, therefore solutions. We would expand our circle of influence to bring unlikely partners into our work.

If we did all of that, we would be putting to work five research-based models: Fast and slow thinking (Daniel Kahneman), Double loop learning (Chris Argylis), Cynefin framework (David Snowden), Munger’s latticework (Charles Munger), and Circle of concern and influence (Steven Covey).

I particularly appreciate this idea of the latticework. Visualize a wooden lattice made of small pieces of work interlocked together. Vines grow up the lattice until one day a rose blossoms at the top. In our work, intentional ways of thinking support new ideas, practices, or collaborations.

Let’s see how this hack might save time for nonprofit folks:

How do program leaders settle on the best options to deliver the great impact? Try the RICE Score to see how the reach, impact, and confidence balances with effort. Consider Dave Gray’s Impact Effort Matrix as a reminder to stay away from the fillers and focus on the projects that will make a difference. And you don’t need to give people too many choices after all. The Paradox of Choice (Barry Schwartz) reminds us that too much choice leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

How can we increase our policy influence? Beyond Steven Covey’s Circle of Concern and Influence, the ADKAR Model (Jeffrey Hiatt) gets us from Awareness to Reinforcement that the change sticks. (I’ll let you look up the D, K, and A steps in between.) Dunbar’s Number (Robin Dunbar) reminds us that we can only handle a fixed number of close partnerships. The Minto pyramid (Barbara Minto) gives us the outline for communicating with busy people.

Nonprofit people are holding two truths in their hands right now. They know that things need to be fundamentally different in 2021, finding a new normal where everyone thrives. They also know that they are tired and lack the thinking power to imagine what that new normal might look like. Model Thinkers might help.

Check out Model Thinkers. Choose your favorite mental model and share it back with us! If you want bonus content, considering subscribing to support Arun and Shai’s work on this project. There is a 25% discount if you join in 2020.

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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