Thinking on Your Feet

August 28th, 2012 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Thinking - (0 Comments)

I recall numerous occasions when I was asked to respond to an issue or provide an update on a project without having been asked to prepare any material. I found myself in an awkward situation since I had the background knowledge on the project or issue but no structure to how I would respond. You may have also experienced the situation of being put on the spot during a meeting, after delivering a presentation or presenting a proposal to a client or colleague. Having attended sessions and workshops with my local Speaking Club and Toastmasters International events, one of the key learnings was the ability to think on your feet when a question or topic was posed to you in an unexpected situation. The ability to think on your feet, to quickly articulate a response that is assertive, persuasive and credible, is a highly sought and respected skill, particularly in negotiations and in persuasive communication.

The basic concept of thinking on your feet involves thinking in “twos” or “threes”. What I mean by thinking in “threes”, for example, is simply breaking down your response into an introduction, body and conclusion. By also believing in the philosophy that part of any answer is already contained in the question, I can easily begin my introduction by restating the question, which would then lead me to the body of my response and finally my conclusion. A more advanced approach to thinking in “threes” involves breaking down your response into the past, present and future. For example, on a particular project you could state what was already done in the past, where the project was at the present and what the future actions or tasks are required to complete the project. Another “threes” concept that can be used relates to points of view. For example, you could state one point of view, then state the opposite point of view and conclude with a response describing the middle ground. A good example of thinking in “twos” is to describe the problem and then present a solution.

Other techniques that can improve your ability to think on your feet include:

  1. Read widely. Reading books and articles on topics of interest, and then recording summaries in a journal will provide you with a valuable repository of knowledge and facts that can be accessed on demand.
  2. Learn to relax. Relaxation techniques transition your mind into a state of higher performance allowing you to find your flow.
  3. Practice active listening. Active listening provides clarity of focus so that you can better understand the question and any related information.
  4. Ask for the question to be repeated. Asking for the question to be repeated is an excellent stalling technique that allows your mind to take the time to think about the question and conceive a response.
  5. The power of the pause. A strategically timed pause allows your mind to reflect and prepare an appropriate response. A pause also exudes confidence in a speaker and gains respect from the audience.
  6. Practice delivering in “twos” and “threes”. An excellent way to practice is to write down specific topics on pieces of paper that are placed in a container and then randomly selected to deliver presentations using the concept of “twos” and “threes”, for example: introduction, body and conclusion; past, present and future; global, national and local; negative, positive and optimal; past and present; problem and solution.
  7. Learn to conclude. A conclusion that is compelling creates a lasting impression and encourages a call to action, if required.

Dr John Kapeleris


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In a previous blog I introduced Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique. The simple approach that encourages parallel thinking within a group or team environment has been useful in solving complex problems but can also increase productivity in meetings where decisions need to be made. Unfortunately, the tool is not used widely because many people don’t feel comfortable in using the technique (could be due to a number of reasons) or they don’t value the tool’s ability to deliver enhanced outcomes.

Having used the tool for over two decades I have seen the power of parallel thinking in a meeting environment. Unfortunately, I have also seen the tool challenged by a number of senior managers who don’t support the use of the tool because they don’t believe in it. The key to experiencing the power of the tool is to start using it and developing a deeper understanding of the power of the Six Thinking Hats. The best approach for applying the tool is to firstly understand the sequence of the coloured hats to use.

When I used the Six Thinking Hats in a workshop to work on the global problem of “Declining supply of petroleum fossil fuels” I used the following sequence of coloured hats and associated questions:

When considering a specific problem or topic it is best to start with the WHITE hat as this allows all the background information to be presented and documented. Once the problem or topic is fully defined then the RED hat is used to ask participants how they feel about the problem or situation. Participants’ feelings are documented. The general tendency for a proportion of people in a meeting, at this stage, is to present the negative aspects of the problem or situation, however in this process I like to encourage the use of the YELLOW hat to capture the positive aspects of the problem or situation from all participants. Sometimes we can identify the positive elements of a problem or issue. This step is then followed with the BLACK hat when everyone considers the negative aspects of the problem or situation. The BLACK hat is then followed by the GREEN hat where everyone is encouraged to use creative thinking to overcome the negative issues but also develop new alternatives to solving the problems or resolving the situation. I then encourage the use of the RED hat again to gauge the feelings of participants after considering the problem or issue. Generally, most participants who were previously concerned about the problem or situation now feel more positive after having gone through the process of using the different hats. Finally, it is always appropriate to use the BLUE hat as this allows participants to develop conclusions or to evaluate and summarise the solutions to move forward on the issue or problem. The BLUE hat also provides process control to ensure the right technique or approach was used by participants. If a solution or resolution was not identified then another approach or process would be suggested as more appropriate in solving the problem.

An example using the six thinking hats to solve the problem “Declining supply of petroleum fossil fuels” can be found below (summary extract of the workshop).

Dr John Kapeleris

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Today’s business environment requires business owners, managers and leaders to deliver more with less time and resources. The impact of the recent global economic changes has further influenced the business environment resulting in diminished resources – fewer people, smaller budgets and significantly less time available to complete tasks and achieve the desired results and outcomes.

One solution to this problem is the power of Speed Thinking. Speed Thinking developed by Dr Ken Hudson and described in detail in his book Speed Thinking: How to Thrive in a Time-poor World is a process that consciously and deliberately accelerates the pace at which an individual or group thinks, creates, solves and acts.

The concept for Speed Thinking emerged when Dr Ken Hudson observed that when managers were challenged by limiting their available time they often produced the desired results and subsequently felt more energised and satisfied. By giving people less time this can unlock their creative abilities to achieve more and still achieve a high quality outcome. It also removes the opportunity for people to over-analyze the situation or task and avoid “paralysis through analysis”.

The concept of Speed Thinking is aligned with the thoughts of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking which challenges the long-held belief that doing something quickly compromises quality. By relying on your creative abilities and intuition you can improve the efficiency of your thinking, avoid procrastination and get more things done quickly by creating more time for yourself.

Dr Ken Hudson outlines a number of ways to use Speed Thinking in his book, however, one of the processes that he describes is SpeedLinks which involves the following steps:

  1. Using the template SpeedLinks Paper Version write down the issue or challenge you wish to resolve.
  2. Create nine initial thoughts or ideas in the inner nine bubbles in two minutes or less (the Start step). The objective is to write down your ideas as fast as you can without filtering or review.
  3. Select a few of the thoughts or ideas that seem the most promising or just intuitively feel interesting (the Evaluate step).
  4. Now try to develop nine ways to make your selected ideas even stronger by expanding and building the ideas into concepts. The objective of this step is to develop or build the ideas as fast as you can (the Build step).
  5. The last step is to take each of the selected and developed concepts and write nine ways to bring these to life (the Action step). For example, you may want to talk to a customer, develop a rapid prototype for demonstration, deliver a presentation to  agroup, develop a short business plan, or write a  list of tasks or activities. Actions should be specific and tangible.

In a very small amount of time you will have developed a range of possibilities, built new concepts and developed action plans ready for implementation.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Leonardo da Vinci is remembered by most as an artist with realistic paintings such as the famous Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, that dominated the Renaissance period. However, when you study the life of Leonardo da Vinci you uncover more than just the artist. You find a multidimensional person who contributed to art, science, medicine, engineering, the military, town planning and politics.

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci in 1452. His father was a notary in Florence and his mother a 16 yr old servant girl. He grew up in his grandfather’s vineyard and orchard overlooking the valley of the River Arno. In his early years Leonardo was educated by the local priest, asking many questions and challenged the existing beliefs of the time.

Leonardo eventually moved to the bustling city of Florence, which was a key city of the Renaissance period. He studied as an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrochio where he worked on various art projects. Leonardo da Vinci worked with like-minded people to learn his trade, and share knowledge and technical skills, including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry, as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling. Leonardo made a significant contribution to refining the art of realism and the use of linear perspective. Leonardo was asked to complete one of Verrochio’s paintings and when Verrochio viewed what Leonardo had completed, he was astounded at the high level of detail and realism that Leonardo achieved. Verrochio had vowed that from that moment on he himself would not paint again. It is clear from the painting below the artistic contribution that Leonardo had made (the detail in the image of the left angel and the distinctive rocky background).

The Renaissance period followed the Middle Ages and began around the 1400s. The period was dominated by learning, discovery and inquiry. Ancient Greek and Roman knowledge was revisited and revised from the perspective of the Renaissance period. One of the key movements during this time was the transformation of two-dimensional Middle Age art to a three-dimensional perspective, creating a sense of realism in artwork. Furthermore, the Renaissance period spawned new discoveries in art, science and adventure. For example, new lands were discovered by Christopher Columbus (1942) during this time.

From an early age Leonardo began to draw and record his thoughts on paper. He kept numerous notebooks of his drawings, designs and observations. He also recorded a number of questions and then tried to answer them as part of his quest for knowledge and understanding. One of Leonardo’s peculiarities was writing many  of his notebook entries  in mirror image (reverse text) demonstrating superior spacial skills. It has been postulated that he wrote many entries in reverse to try to hide some of his notes, thoughts and ideas from prying eyes, or simply because he wanted to prevent smudging as he was mainly left-handed (although he was also ambidextrous).

Leonardo displayed certain distinct characteristics common amongst creative people, including:

  • Curious and open-minded
  • Challenged assumptions and sought the truth
  • Optimistic
  • Tolerant of ambiguity
  • Comfortable with imagination and intuition
  • Viewed problems as opportunities
  • Persevered and didn’t give up easily
Michael Gelb in his book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” identified seven principles demonstrated by Leonardo da Vinci:
  1. Curiosity
  2. Demonstration
  3. Sensing
  4. Ambiguity
  5. Whole-Brain Thinking (art and science)
  6. Physical Being
  7. Interconnectedness

Leonardo utilised the seven principles to achieve a number of outcomes. For example, in 1502 he worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia the son of Pope Alexander VI at a time where many Italian city-states were always at war. Leonardo’s job was to design new devices to better kill the enemy. He also came up with ways to remove, redirect or poison enemy water supplies.

Leonardo also identified and recorded a number of observations in his journals, and designed a number of inventions before their time:

  • 40 yrs before Copernicus – wrote that the earth is not the centre of the universe
  • 60 yrs before Galileo – large magnifying lens to view the moon
  • 200 yrs before Newton – theory of gravitation
  • 400 yrs before – concept of flight, parachute, helicopter, submarine, tanks, recoil-less gun and other inventions

By studying Leonardo da Vinci we find that we can identify a number of learnings from his life that we can adopt in our personal and working life, including:

  • Be curious and open-minded – a wealth of opportunities emerge when our mind is prepared to be open to ideas and curious about our surroundings
  • Ask questions to solve problems – asking “Why?” is a great way to solve problems by finding the root cause or causes
  • Capture ideas and experiences in a journal – thinking on paper by keeping a journal is a great way of expressing your internal creative spirit
  • Balance art and science – get the best of both worlds through reading and creative activities
  • Harmonize body and mind – use whole brain thinking techniques by stimulating and reprogramming your subconscious mind
  • Appreciate nature and our surroundings – enjoy and protect our world by considering the implications of increasing waste and carbon emissions
  • Set goals and aspirations – ensure you set SMART goals that are backed by action to create successful outcomes
  • Create a harmonious work-life balance – both work and play are important for humans, therefore ensure that your work and personal life are integrated and balanced

To continuous learning and creative inspiration!

Dr John Kapeleris

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Stress is a natural reaction or response, both physical and emotional, to external threats or stimuli whether actual or imagined. A certain level of stress is required by the human body to ensure the nervous system responds to challenges, stays focused and remains alert. It is a way for the body to protect itself against external threats.

Excessive stress, however can be detrimental, and could result in the following health issues or symptoms:

  • increased blood pressure;
  • suppressed immune system;
  • increased risk of heart attack and stroke; and
  • accelerated aging.

Chronic or long-term stress can also impact on your mind by making you more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

The following strategy will help to manage stress successfully:

  1. Allocate time for yourself. Spend some time each day relaxing or doing something that you really enjoy.
  2. Make time for other people in your life. Invest time with your close relationships by talking to them and listening to what they have to say.
  3. Start the day with a relaxation activity. Spend at least 15 to 30 minutes every morning exercising, thinking, or undertaking a relaxation exercise, such as reading or creative visualization.
  4. Allow enough time for travel. Avoid rushing to meetings and appointments by allowing enough time for travel so that you arrive in plenty of time stress-free.
  5. Get organized. Avoid clutter and chaos by being proactive in organizing your time (through your calendar), your files (as the documents become available) and your information systems (action and delete your emails).
  6. Be assertive and proactive. Be assertive but avoid aggressive behaviour which could result in stress. Say “no” to distractions and time-wasters. Furthermore being proactive by anticipating in advance what needs to be done will avoid stress in the future.
  7. Start a hobby. Find a hobby that is relaxing and non-stressful, such as reading or taking walks in the park.
  8. Avoid stressful situations. Avoid situations which could be stressful for you.
  9. Make lists and plans. You will be able to think more clearly by writing down your list of actions and plans.
  10. Relax before you go to bed. Before going to bed spend some time relaxing through reflection, creative visualization and relaxation activities, or simply reading a book.

Worry is another behaviour that can create excessive stress. Most of the things we worry about do not even come true. This is well illustrated by a quote from William R. Inge, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due. Therefore, the best way to avoid or manage worry is to quickly evaluate a situation using a simple checklist by asking the following questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that can happen when confronted with the situation?
  2. How would I deal with the situation?

You will find that virtually any problem or challenge that is confronted can be solved in some way thereby avoiding the need to worry. Taking immediate action to solve the problem or challenge will ensure that the issues do not escalate and become unmanageable.

To your success!

Dr John Kapeleris

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The year 2011 is technically the start of a new decade. Therefore, one of the questions on my mind has been, “What will be the focus or trend for the new decade?” I spent some time doing some research online to identify the new trends and found that three things will definitely occur in the new decade:

1. There will be more change in the world than ever before
2. There will be more competition
3. There will be more opportunities available.

I also identified that the emerging theme or trend, particularly in the complex digital age, will be “thinking”. The use of computers and the escalation of digital handheld devices has removed the human element from interactions and transactions. Technology in the last decade has limited our ability to take time out to spend on thinking – thinking about our current situation, thinking about our goals, and thinking about the future. Instead we spend significant amounts of time watching shows in front of flat-screen TVs, playing games or surfing the internet on computers, and tapping away on handheld devices.

Many decades ago Thomas Edison stated, “There are few people who think, a few people who think they think, and then there are the great majority, who would rather die than think“. Interestingly, this quote is still relevant today. We either avoid making the effort to think, or we have essentially allowed technology and computers to do our thinking for us. Humans, in general, have also become more complacent by focusing on the present rather than thinking about the future. Thinking provides the ability to make better decisions which translate into better actions, and ultimately better results.

One of the characteristics of successful and insightful people is that they are future-oriented. They set aside the time to think about changes and trends that will impact on the future. They use these trends and factors to identify new opportunities providing first-mover advantage. Future-oriented people believe they can create their own future and influence their destiny by taking advantage of these opportunities.

Thinking can also change the way we perceive a problem. We can think of a problem as an undesirable situation that needs to be rectified. We can also take this undesirable situation or problem and view it as a challenge that can stimulate motivation for us to take action. Ultimately, we can perceive a problem as an opportunity and take advantage of what it can offer.

John C. Maxwell in his book “Thinking for a Change” describes the eleven different styles of thinking that can change your life:

  1. Acquire the wisdom of big-picture thinking – holistic thinking that extends beyond your domain
  2. Unleash the potential of focused thinking – concentrated thinking to clarify the issues
  3. Discover the joy of creative thinking – thinking laterally outside the box to identify breakthrough opportunities
  4. Recognize the importance of realistic thinking – asking whether your thinking has a solid foundation
  5. Release the power of strategic thinking – thinking about the future and the potential opportunities it brings
  6. Feel the energy of possibility thinking – possibility thinking can help you find solutions to complex problems
  7. Embrace the lessons of reflective thinking – thinking about the past or your current situation to better understand and learn from your experiences
  8. Question the acceptance of popular thinking – understand the current trends of common thinking in society
  9. Encourage the participation of shared thinking – engaging others to expand and sharpen your thinking
  10. Experience the satisfaction of unselfish thinking – considering the needs of others in your thinking
  11. Enjoy the return of bottom-line thinking – staying focused on results and outcomes from your thinking

To engage in the thinking process, set aside some quiet time in the right environment with a clear and relaxed mind, together with pen and paper, using the following step process:

  1. Determine the purpose of your thinking – What is the objective that you are trying to achieve?
  2. Focus on the topic, issue or opportunity – Take the time to focus so that you can achieve clarity.
  3. Explore the possibilities using some of the thinking styles above – Identify the different alternatives available by using different thinking styles.
  4. Synthesize your thoughts and ideas – Combine, adapt, modify, substitute, eliminate or reverse your thoughts and ideas to create new opportunities.
  5. Record your thoughts and ideas on paper – Think on paper! Get back to basics by using a pen and pad or journal to write down your thoughts and ideas, also allowing you to get things out of your head.
  6. Act on the outputs and opportunities resulting from your thinking – Take action and implement your ideas.

If you focus on thinking about the future an unlimited number of possibilities and opportunities become available that can create a new direction and a more desirable life.

Dr John Kapeleris

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