As many of you know, frequently my friend Jean Moroney allows us to reprint The Think Directions Occasional Update. I’m pleased to share this edition. If any of you have a chance, I highly recommend Jean’s workshops.

The Thinking Directions
Occasional Update 
Issue #52by Jean Moroney

I.      Tip: Getting Out of the “I Don’t Know” Trap
II.     Upcoming Thinking Tactics workshops
        Early-Bird Discount End August 11
        New York: Saturday, October 6, 2012
        San Antonio: Saturday, November 10, 2012
III.    Jump Start Teleclass (FREE)
        Tuesday, August 7, 2012
        8:00 p.m. Eastern
I. Tip: Getting Out of the “I Don’t Know” Trap
There are two kinds of “I don’t know.” One kind is accompanied by a sense of bafflement and annoyance. If you put the feeling into words, it would say, “why would you expect me to know that?” That’s how you feel when someone asks, “who’s the president of Kyrgzstan?”
The other kind of “I don’t know”–the more important and interesting kind–is accompanied by surprise and maybe chagrin, because you believe you should know the answer. For example, someone asks, “who was the US president in 1940?” and you go blank. Or a recruiter asks, “what makes you a good candidate for this job?” and no coherent thought comes to mind. When the answer “should” be “obvious,” it’s discomfiting that you have no answer.
In this situation, rookies make the mistake of repeating the question to themselves, loudly and insistently, hoping the answer will pop into mind. Occasionally it does. When it doesn’t, rookies give up. They fall into the trap of believing that they don’t know.
More likely, you do know enough to answer this question. When a direct question doesn’t trigger a direct answer, you need to switch to an indirect process.
The indirect process is thinking. You work out an answer, by thinking through what you do know, over several steps.
The first step is to ask yourself an easier question–one that you can answer. By answering an easier question, you bring to mind memories and ideas that are relevant. Just one or two easier questions usually triggers enough useful information for you to use to get an answer to your “I don’t know.”
One good way to generate an easier question is to make a specific question more general, or a general question more specific. For example, switch from “who was president?” (a specific question) to “what was going on in general in 1940?” Answer: World War II had recently started in Europe. That may well trigger that FDR was president of the US then.
Another way to generate an easier question is to be contrarian. Instead of looking for the good, look for the bad, and vice versa. For example, if you switch from “what makes you a good candidate for this job?” to “what would make someone a bad candidate?” you will likely think of a host of weaknesses: laziness, incompetence, ignorance. You can then contrast these negatives with your own productive, talented self to answer the recruiter’s question.
It takes skill to think up a useful easier question at the moment you are surprised by “I don’t know.” People who think well “on their feet” have the skill and the presence of mind to ask an easier question and to remain poised, despite feeling stumped.
If you want to develop this skill, practice at your desk. Ask yourself the hard questions you expect from a recruiter or a boss or a listener. If you don’t know an answer, take a few minutes to think through some easier questions until you can answer that hard question. Over time, you will become adept at answering questions, despite an initial “I don’t know.”
II. Upcoming Thinking Tactics Workshops
    Early-Bird Discount Ends August 11
    New York: Saturday, October 6, 2012
    San Antonio: Saturday, November 10, 2012
“This class holds far more than just a few tips and tricks. I learned powerful and fundamental techniques that will be widely applicable and enormously useful in my life.”
–John Krieger, PhD., Aliso Viejo, CA
“I highly recommend this workshop to anyone who wants to improve the quality of his thinking in pursuit of his goals. The principles and tactics are clear, though non-obvious, and they apply to myriad aspects of life.”
–Craig Biddle, Editor, The Objective Standard
What You Learn in Thinking Tactics:
In the morning session, Concentrating the Power of Your Mind, you will learn:
  • The #1 tactic for coping with brief interruptions when you are trying to concentrate
  • How to combat overload in three quick steps
  • How to spot when you’re wasting effort, then get your work back on track fast
  • What you need to take the strain out of thinking and make it flow
In the afternoon session, Making Complex Tasks Fit in People- Sized Brains, you will learn:
  • How to break down the hardest thinking tasks so you can get started immediately
  • How to untangle complex decisions so you can quickly commit to an option and move forward
  • The one thing to do when you have to put work aside for more than 5 minutes to ensure you don’t lose your place
  • The #1 thinking tactic that helps perfectionists (and everyone else) turn in good work on time
This is an interactive workshop. During the day we will work through exercises and processes in the 70-page workbook using a combination of lecture, discussion, group exercises, and individual exercises.
Cost: $375.
Save $100 (pay $275) if you sign up by August 11.
More testimonials:
“Run to this class. It has great tools and great materials to take home. I solved a couple of problems in class in a short, simple way using writing. I knew writing could help, but I never took a workshop that helped me direct it so well! Thank you!”
–Melanie Hoffman, Minneapolis, MN
“This class is more than worth the time and money it cost. It will pay for itself in my next *one* week of work! I was surprised by how, even in just a few minutes of class time using the techniques, I reduced my stress level over an upcoming deadline–and made some actual progress.”
–W. Dale Stevens, PhD, Neuroscientist, National Institute of    Mental Health, Bethesda, MD
“If you are interested in clear, actionable ideas to improve your thinking presented in an enthusiastic and compelling manner, I strongly recommend Jean Moroney’s Thinking Tactics workshop. The class is invigorating, challenging and a ridiculously good value for a learning experience which offers techniques and insights that will pay dividends for the rest of your life. If you manage people or work in any kind of group setting, there is no question the workshop would help the productivity and functioning of the entire team.”
–Mark Jabo, Financial Consultant, New York, NY
Questions? Email Jean Moroney
III. Jump Start Your Thinking Teleclass
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
8:00 p.m. Eastern
(7:00 Central, 6:00 Mountain, 5:00 Pacific)
In this class, I teach easy ways to jump start your thinking. I show you how a few minutes of targeted thinking may bring fantastic results, and always makes the rest of the task easier.
This is a freebie teaser class for Thinking Tactics. No obligation. Register here:
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(c) Jean Moroney
Thinking Directions

Jean Moroney

Jean Moroney teaches managers and other professionals how to tap their own knowledge bank to solve problems faster, make better decisions, and communicate more effectively. Corporations hire her to train their managers in “Thinking Tactics” to help them get more done with fewer resources. This article originally appeared in her free email newsletter. Subscribe at Thinking Directions or email


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