Tuesday, June 26, 2012

6 Ways to Become a More Independent Thinker at Work

One of the reasons I went into journalism was because I didn't want to rely on someone else to tell me the facts of a situation. I wanted to find them out for myself.
Yet things have changed since I entered the media industry. It seems that some "facts" are churned out faster than can be verified, with errors being tweeted or rushed onto television as "breaking news" without all the information.
Sometimes our work worlds can be just the same. How often do you repeat what someone told you about a client without ever investigating whether it's based on facts? Do you  pass along information via email or social media without checking to see if it's true?
Perhaps you feel that's what you're supposed to do -- just follow the herd and not think anything for yourself. But if you want to stand out in your career, learning to think for yourself may be key. Check out this story I did for Gannett/USA Today....

Sitting in another endless meeting and thinking about all the work piling up on your desk, you're startled when you hear the boss call your name
"So, what do you think of Helen's proposal?" the boss asks.
What you think is that you don't want to sit in this meeting another minute, so you chime in: "It's great! Let's go with it!"

You breathe a sigh of relief as others nod in agreement. After a bit more discussion, the meeting is adjourned.
Of course, the problem is that you never really listened to Helen's proposal closely. You really cared only about dealing with the dozens of emails awaiting you and making it out of work soon enough to watch your child's soccer game.
But you rationalize that no one really cares what you think. They just want a rubber stamp for whatever idea the boss thinks is best. If you've learned one thing in the past few years, it's to keep your head down and not stir the pot.
But is that really the best career strategy now?
More companies want employees to be more innovative; it's imperative for survival against global competition. At the same time, those who don't show a willingness to come up with creative ideas often are passed over for promotions and fail to be marketable in a competitive job market.
Workplace expert Nan S. Russell says that's why workers who want their careers to thrive must quit going along to get along and learn to be more independent thinkers.
"I think a lot of us have really shut down at work," she says. "People are just doing what they need to do. But creative ideas and engagement and commitment are really things that you give to someone. They can't crowbar it out of you."
Often, a herd mentality to adopt the latest buzzword or workplace thinking can derail your ability to think independently, she said.
Have you ever argued passionately about something then realized that you're really arguing someone else's point of view, that you never really stopped to investigate an issue yourself and form your own opinion?
That kind of "bandwagon" thinking can stifle organizations and creative individual thoughts, Russell says.
"There's a shift that needs to happen. That jump in thinking that says, 'I have to own my thinking for me,' " she says.
Further, individuals need to take more responsibility for shutting off outside distractions such as texts, emails, phone calls and piles of work simply to notice other things that can stir the creative juices and help form more independent thoughts, she says.
In her new book, "The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You're Not in Charge," (Career Press, $15.99), Russell says you can spark your creative thinking in a number of ways and become a leader in your workplace.
Among the ideas for you to try for the next 60 days:
• Jump start your brain in the morning. Begin each day by reading a new quotation, visiting a new website or taking a new route to work while listening to a new radio station.
• Look for dissent. Instead of hanging out with people who agree with you on most issues, actively seek out those who may have a different opinion.
Look for those people who may have a diverse work experience or background.
• Ask more questions. Forget about always coming up with the right answers.
Instead think about asking more questions to come up with better solutions.
• Reduce multitasking. Start paying attention to something other than your smartphone.
"Have you ever noticed that when people go to the zoo with their kids they're busy checking their texts?" Russell asks. "They're not noticing anything else that's going on, and that's a great time to get creative ideas."
• Check the facts. Instead of relying on someone else to tell you what's going on in your industry, vow to read or listen to one book or publication a month that is industry related.
When giving an opinion, make sure you've checked the source yourself so you can give offer your own unique ideas.
• Shadow someone from another department on the job to glean new knowledge and ideas.
"Make an appointment with yourself, so that you take the time to look at issues and think about things," Russell says. "Don't just accept someone else's ideas or opinion."

What ways do you try to stand out at work?


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