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“That’s the way we have always done it” is one of the most cringe-worthy statements usually delivered by some who have gotten too comfortable and complaisant in their current role, but is it the right way? Is there a better way? Are questions we should ask in return. As a society, we want to cling to the familiar “tried and true” as if it were a warm blanket on a cold night, ever resistant to change until forced to rethink what we know. As the world changes, we too must change with it. We should strive to break the rigidity of our minds and seek mental agility, to remain relevant and become better practitioners, leaders, and humans.
In this month’s book, we explore the notion of rethinking what we know not only in a particular instance but as a continuous practice in everyday life. Today we are constantly bombarded by information at our fingertips, making us more informed thinkers. If we only open our minds to consider second thoughts, we can step out of our preachers, prosecutors, and preacher mindsets that most of us tend to fall into in our thought and speech. We shift into scientist mode by considering different possibilities, analyzing, and reconsidering other options; we enter the rethinking cycle. In this cycle, we set aside our overconfident traits of pride, conviction, desirability biases, and validation and adopt rethinking traits of humility, doubt, curiosity, and discovery leading us to discoveries that preserve our humanity. Confidence and competence are not always the same or parallel traits, and in fact, they diverge a lot. Let’s take a survey on your job performance. You rate yourself (confidence) and have others place you (competence). I think you will find diffing results; the good leaders will likely encounter less deviation in the results. Overconfidence results in incompetence, but competence will build confidence, and as Emergency Managers, we need to be both. We also need to create safe and empowering workspaces that encourage team members to respect and challenge each other. The work environment where relationship conflict is consistently low, but conflicts over tasks are elevated to be most productive. If we can challenge each other’s work ideas and still laugh with and respect each other, that is true harmony. How many of you work in an environment like this? Would you want to? You can create it.
Never fear changing your mind as often as necessary to get “it” right. This is not a sign of hypocrisy or being indecisive. It indicates our willingness to learn, which is a strength. But how do we get others to rethink their opinions? One way is with humility and curiosity, inviting others to think more like scientists and understand that a good debate is not war but more like a dance, and like a dance, you must be able to lead and follow while staying in rhythm. One way to inspire others to think again is through a technique called motivational interviewing using open-ended questions, reflective listening, and affirming the person’s desire to change. I believe this technique can be beneficial for us Emergency Managers when trying to get people to think again. Typically our first instinct is to talk, but listening is the most effective way to open people’s minds, and in turn, we may open our own.
Let’s be bold and release the notion of “grit” relentlessly pursuing a course with unwavering resolve “sticking to our guns” there is a fine line between persistent and foolish. Instead, maybe we pursue lifelong learning and growth, continuously rewriting the book by considering different views, experiences, and possibilities. Sometimes it is better to lose some progress to change directions rather than continuing to pursue pointless efforts because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Instead, let’s pursue purpose and meaning in our personal and professional lives in places we can learn and contribute. Stay open to opportunities; this pursuit will ultimately lead to fulfillment and happiness, which is the real point.
Make thinking a habit again, continuously thinking like a scientist, avoid preaching, prosecuting, and politicking and stay mentally agile.
Challenge your views and yourself and seek hardships, make mistakes for growth opportunities, be humble and never be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Avoid best practices (“this is how we’ve always done it”) and create a space with a learning culture that empowers those around you to challenge the status quo without fear of reprisal and make time for rethinking.
As the EM profession progresses and we grow in our roles, we owe it to ourselves and those we serve to evaluate the old ways of doing things and challenge the existing concepts. We need to challenge each other’s ideas and concepts, take bold steps while seeking growth opportunities, and appreciate being wrong our confidence is not in what we know but in our ability to learn. Let’s start a “Think Again” revolution and get uncomfortable, rethink everything.