Ain't it Awful? Recruiting Complainers and Whiners Today

Published by Bob Eckert on LinkedIN on 17 December 2015

Why is it that some people seem to stay stuck in the problems that surround them yet others rise above that same circumstance? Why do some seem to only complain, while others solve? Why do some have little positive influence in their lifetime, and others positively change the world in significant ways?

I’m fond of saying that...

There is no such thing as a grown-up. Just growing-ups and stuck people. That’s it.

If you and the organizations you’re involved with want sustained innovation, you’ll need as many growing-ups as you can find.

And the growing-ups that I’ve worked with, studied and try to emulate seem to all know about a specific cognitive trick, which they strive to make a habit. While the stuck folks I know and observe ignore this trick – sometimes belligerently – even when they are presented with evidence of its effectiveness.

To have a shot at using the mind hack I’ll describe, one has to first think about one's thinking for a bit, then make some choices. Assuming normal cognitive function, which, if you’re reading this, is a safe bet, you have this ability. It’s called metacognition, and it’s that part of your being that can observe your cognitive flow from a neutral distance, then actually change that flow in a direction of willful choice.

One thought leads to another thought.

So, if we think about thinking for a moment in general terms, there is an interesting pattern we can see: certain thought forms – certain patterns of cognition - beget a somewhat predictable next thought. Let's call that a cognitive cascade. The flow of thinking wanders a bit with each subsequent thought, but in many cases it's quite predictable for at least the first few follow-on thoughts. You can try this out. I’ll make a declarative statement in a moment, and as you read it, I invite you to pause and think about it for a moment before reading further. Just ruminate on it and pay attention to the thoughts you have in the cognitive cascade following the reading of this declaration:

“America has begun what historians will call its great decline.”

------ Pause and ruminate-------

Now assuming you’ve played along, it’s fairly likely that one of two thought patterns has appeared.

  1. You began thinking about evidence to refute the statement
  2. You began thinking about evidence that supported the trigger statement

A rule of cognition is that our minds respond to declarative statements in this way. When that statement comes from our own minds, we almost always look for evidence to support. When heard from another, our confirmation bias is triggered to refute or support.

Complaints are declarative statements. When I speak or think them, my mind spends its energy cementing the perceived reality and believed accuracy of the complaint. When I disagree with someone else’s complaint, my mind spends its energy cementing my opposing viewpoint in my own brain by making opposing arguments. And there we become stuck. Do this repeatedly and the cement hardens.

There is a different cognitive cascade, which, if we willfully choose it, unleashes our fullest human potential. Try it. We’ll do the same thing. You’ll read something in quotes in a moment. After doing so, pause and observe your thinking.

“What might be all of the ways to assure that America does not enter into a period of decline?”

------ Pause and ruminate-------

Predictably, because your mind heard a question, you began trying to answer it. You began generating options using that creative combinational cortex of yours to ideate solutions.

The hack: Phrase problems as questions.

It sounds “overly simple” I know, but it takes mental alertness to catch ourselves when we’ve downshifted to the complainers mind and force of will to upshift to the solvers mind. And there are tricks within the hack.

Use invitational stems like “How might...” or “What might be all of the ways…” or “In what ways might we…” Not questions like “Why are you so stupid?” Rather, “How might I help you see it another way?” or “What might be all of the ways I could improve my way of expressing my viewpoint?” There is subtlety here to pay attention to as well. The word “might” allows for wrongness down the ideational pathway. It invites the most robust creative thinking because it puts more on the mental table. The word “all” turns the table of options to a smorgasbord of potential.

  • How might…
  • In what ways might…
  • What might be all of the….

Growing-ups are always improving themselves and the world around them. Not by complaining, but by taking responsibility to think in ways that invite their inner creator and that of others to appear and do great things. It’s the questions that begin the cascade to greatness.