WHAT two days of the week starts with the letter “t?” If your answer is Tuesday and Thursday, then you gave an incomplete answer. To mesmerize your examiner with a complete answer, you also tell him—“today and tomorrow.” Next question, please…
Without using a calculator, how many seconds do we have in a year? The correct answer is 12! How come? Proceed by enumerating all the months of the year starting with January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd, and so forth until you reach December 2nd. Gotcha!
In psychology, there’s such a thing as schema or a mental generalization about objects, places, events, and people. For example, when one thinks of a Catholic Church in one’s locality, even without you going actually inside a church, you can imagine it having a big cross, the statues of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, including a patron saint and a big collection box prominently visible inside the edifice.
In other words, schema is an opinion formed beforehand. It’s a preconceived notion that helps one to connect what he’s trying to learn with his own experiences and acquired knowledge. If you’ll connect what you know about a given subject with what you’re reading or learning from someone, you tend to increase your understanding of things.
The trouble is that schema tends to cloud our view when we are problem-solving and decision-making, like the other available solutions of “today and tomorrow” and “12 seconds” in our above-cited examples.
OK, fine. If you’re not yet convinced, then here’s another puzzle for you being offered by Saundra Ciccarelli and J. Noland White in “Psychology” (3rd edition, 2012).
Put a coin in a bottle then seal the opening with a cork. Question. “How can you get the coin out of the bottle without pulling out the cork or breaking the bottle?” The answer is simple: “Push the cork into the bottle and shake out the coin.” Who says you can’t do it?
Once again, whatever you’re thinking is incomplete, if not patently wrong! That’s because, you’re fixated on a preconceived idea. That’s because you’re only thinking of the impossible solutions. That’s because you insist on using solutions that worked for you in the past. If not, you’ve not understood the question.
Isn’t that “insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?”
Here’s another poser by Ciccarelli and White: “Marsha and Marjorie were born on the same day of the same month of the same year to the same mother and the same father, yet they are not twins. How is that possible?” Of course, it’s possible! The insightful answer is this—“Marsha and Marjorie are two of a set of triplets.” Or two of a set of quadruplets, etc.
Let’s put the theory into practice. In human resources, how would you manage problem employees without using progressive discipline or the graduated use of penalty ranging from oral reprimand to dismissal? How would you avoid schema so that you will not be blinded by the correct answer. If you’re having difficulties or hasve given up, or if you’ve not given this serious thought, then think again.
This time, however, I will not spoon feed you publicly with the correct answer, which you may not discover even by googling the subject matter. If you want to know the answer, send me an email and I will be glad to explain it to you. In the meantime, here’s the clue. The answer starts with letter “p.”
Remember this and you can’t go wrong—sometimes, everything that comes to mind is wrong and yet the answer is too basic for one to ignore it.
I’ve done a detailed prescription of this in another business publication where I started my professional career as a management journalist in 1993. It is only a matter of time, effort, and some money to put them all into a coherent manuscript to help those in management go back to where they belong—strategic thinking.
Probably, your reaction is: “Rey, that’s an excellent idea, and you should receive at the minimum the Nobel Prize in Literature.” Thank you, but as a Filipino journalist, I’m not here to seek fame and glory, and much more fortune. All I seek is a worthwhile endeavor to keep me going by rocking the boat of managers who create more and more stupid corporate policies.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.