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  • Writer's pictureLaura Roeven

Open Minded Approach: Side-Stepping Personal Preference

I read an article, “The Dangers of Categorical Thinking" by Bart de Langhe and Philip Fernbach.

Laura’s definition of Categorical Thinking: having a narrow or fixed mindset concerning people, things, or circumstances by thinking we know all the facts around it and assuming things that are not accurate.

Okay, I admit it. I like learning about what we do when we rely on auto pilot. De Langhe and Fernbach pushed me out of my own categorical thinking. It was refreshing to recognize mental habit traps that can happen with Categorical Thinking.

“Categorical thinking can be dangerous in four important ways. (1) It can lead you to compress the members of a category, treating them as if they were more alike than they are;(2) amplify differences between members of different categories; (3)discriminate, favoring certain categories over others; and (4) fossilize, treating the categorical structure you’ve imposed as if it were static.”

Coach Approach to these 4 Points:

  1. We are all different and come to our day with our unique sets of skills and experiences. Don’t assume about others and don’t sell yourself short based limited thinking. If I am putting myself or another into a category, what am I believing in that moment? What beliefs do I have about this group and myself? What limits do I discover? How could looking at this uniquely bring me clarity?

  2. “Amplification can have serious consequences when it affects how you think about members of social or political groups.” Remember Milo, in The Phantom Tollbooth, jumping to the Isle of Conclusions? The only way Milo, Tock and Humbug could return to their quest was to swim through the Sea of Knowledge. So true! What combats generalization is greater knowledge about variations within a group. Our language is more inclusive and less derisive when we don’t jump to conclusions about anyone or anything. Crossing silos happens when we move beyond the assumptions of another team and ask questions, make requests, and collaborate. Curiosity is the vehicle to drive collaboration when trying to lean into open-mindedness and connection.

  3. The third point is “to discriminate and favor certain categories over others.” I used to hear in Weight Watchers, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” I think it is important as a company, team, and leader to be mindful of the fact that humans prefer known over unknown. This hard-wiring is critical to recognize to stop swimming in the soup of “we’ve always done it this way”. When a discomfort comes up with learning a new idea, auto pilot might reject it without consideration. Innovation and great leadership check these preferences to give space and voice to ideas that promote growth and change.

  4. “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” John Maynard Keynes. We must keep learning to overcome the paralysis of fossilized thinking. We can use our bodies and minds to push out of fixed places. For me, that looks like recognizing discomfort with a new idea or experience. I breathe into the new moment and offer empathy. “You’ve never done this. Of course, you feel a little uncertain. What do you need to find out?” As a coach, I learn something new every week to push my knowledge beyond where the week began. I need stimulation, growth, and ideas to continue my emergence. Learning is needed on a regular basis. When was the last time you encountered an entirely new idea? Is there something you are craving to learn? Chisel fossilized thinking with a new idea today!

Why do I care about this? I am interested in fostering more ways of accessing empathy and connection with situations that push my buttons. We have our assumptions and preferences based on our experiences. According to this article, preferences and assumptions aren’t good tools to make open minded decisions. In conclusion, we will connect better with an open mind. One way to stay more open minded is to catch when we box ourselves in by our own thinking.

Need help thinking about a person, situation, or issue in a new way? Book a coaching session and we’ll climb out of the box you put yourself into together.



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