Most facilitators spend a good deal of time thinking through and designing processes that we hope will be effective for our customer’s unique needs. This is simply good and responsible planning. But how many times have you felt uneasy about being prepared enough, or found that you had to significantly deviate from your plan? I know I have been in these positions more often than not. I’ve also found that often my best work has been done during those times where I simply “didn’t know what I was doing.” Yet when it was all over, I knew that I had done something special and the feedback from participants confirmed it.
We’re taught all of our lives to “use our heads”. Who among us isn’t familiar with statements like these:
- “Come on now, use your head!”
- “Think about what you’re doing!”
- “Knowledge is power”
- “Think! Think!”
We put great faith in rigorous, rational scientific analysis as our savior in times of trouble. We seek the counsel of experts when we lack “expert knowledge.” Yet everyone of us, at one time or another, has had a hunch or a “gut instinct” that told us something useful about a situation that turned out to be right on.
As it turns out, science is rediscovering the power of hunches…the capacity to make lightning fast decisions without the benefit of conscious analysis, many of which are very accurate. This capacity is referred to as the adaptive unconscious. It offers up hunches or intuitive hits that we can’t explain, largely because their source involves access to huge amounts of unconscious material.
It’s been said that if our thumb represents our conscious mind, then the rest of our body represents our unconscious minds. If this is anywhere close to the truth, and I believe it is, then most of the reasons we give for our likes, dislikes, and the actions we take, are wrong. This is true because we are driven in large part by motivations and desires that are outside our conscious awareness.
In Improv, we employ special exercises that help us to relax our thinking in order to better listen to others and respond to the situation. Most people find, much to their amazement, that they are able to listen to and respond far more effectively without thinking! Consciously that is. Of course processes are happening that allow us to access the response we need without distracting ourselves consciously to think about it. Trusting our intuitive response takes a great deal of faith at first. Or as we facilitators are fond of saying, it requires that we “trust in the process.” Not only group process, but our “adaptive unconscious” process as well.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, gives dozens of examples of how people sometimes make brilliantly accurate snap judgments. He kicks his book off with the story of the Getty Museum’s purchase of an ancient 2,500 year old statue called a kouros for $10 Million. Experts spent 14 months studying the artifact to verify its authenticity, after which they did in fact purchase the statue. During this period, a couple of third party experts were brought in to view the statue and remarked in one way or another, upon first glance, that authenticity was in question. They had nothing to back up their feelings but they were strong nonetheless. As time went on, others began to question the statues authenticity and with more exhaustive research, it was proven to be a forgery. How could it be that someone could look at a statue and in two seconds come up with a conclusion that 14 months of detailed, rational, scientific research could not?
Gladwell also quoted the results of speed-dating studies that indicate most people have a stated set of parameters they use to select mates, and a much different unconscious list that actually drives their attraction to prospective mates. The bottom line from this and other research quoted in the book indicates that people are largely ignorant of the things that affect their actions but rarely feel ignorant. He suggests that we should say “I don’t know” more often as it is more often than not closer to the truth.
Perhaps this lack of awareness of our unconscious material, particularly that part we don’t like to look at (our shadow as coined by Jung) explains why the whole world can continually speak of peace, while peace continues
to elude us.
Recognition of the power of snap judgments is not intended to discount the value of scientific analysis, planning, and the expertise developed over years of study and practice. But we would often do well to question “hard scientific facts” as they are not always as hard as we think they are, and “irrational intuitive hits” often carry more weight than we care to think.
Gladwell also looks at another category of snap judgments that are faulty, as they are built on irrational and unconscious cultural biases. Race and gender biases fit into this category, as do our desire to trust tall, dark, handsome, and charismatic men.
Gladwell found that it’s not how much information we have, and how long we deliberate that contributes to the quality of our decisions, but how well we discern those few simple keys that carry most of the weight.
So what does all of this mean to us and our groups? What if we began to practice testing some of our snap judgments that show up in our groups? And what if we also encouraged our participants to do the same? . Many great insights can be accessed if we give voice to our unconscious knowing. And alternatively, many unconscious blinders might be lifted if we do the same. Group facilitation might then serve as a laboratory where we help each other access increased capacities in service to our work.
This week practice tapping into and acting on your adaptive unconscious through the use of snap judgments. Give them voice and test them out to see what you discover. I invite you to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments section below.
Improvisational Facilitator Teleclass & Facilitator Questions Collection
Every field of work would benefit by better improvisation. This highly experiential teleclass presents powerful, practical improv techniques you can use to immediately enhance your facilitation, training, and group leadership skills. You’ll learn ways to become a better facilitator by experimenting with improv techniques, and increase your confidence and creativity to make your plan become more flexible and spontaneous. Details here.
Questions are key tools for facilitators and trainers. This 35-page collection contains 20 sets of questions grouped according to the many themes upon which groups typically focus. Use these lists in preparation for working with a group or use them as catalysts for the development of your own questions. Details here.