Art Markman is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. His latest book, “Smart Thinking” was published in January.

Innovation has been a core theme in business over the past few years. The mantra is that companies need their employees to work smarter, not harder. As I discuss in my new book “Smart Thinking,” there are some straightforward things you can do to help everyone in your organization think more effectively. The more you know about the way your mind works, the more that you can improve the thinking of the people around you. I call this “creating a culture of smart thinking.”

Here are five things you can do to get the ball rolling toward a smarter organization.

1. Stamp out multitasking. The human mind simply isn’t designed to do more than one kind of complex thinking at a time. When people are working on complex material, give them permission to ignore the phone, shut off the e-mail and shut down instant messaging. When you bring everyone together for a big meeting, get them to “be here now.” Ban smartphones and Internet browsing during meetings.

2. Encourage openness. You never know where the next good idea is going to come from. So encourage people to try on new ideas for size before deciding whether to pursue them. Too often, people assume that the fiercest critic in the room is the one who looks smartest. But if you criticize before deeply understanding an idea, you won’t be able to use that knowledge later when you need it. Set an example by focusing first on the positive parts of a new proposal before finding potential flaws.

3. The company succeeds when “we” succeed. Our culture is one that prizes individualism. Ultimately, we reward people who make important contributions. Credit and publicity tend to go to particular individuals who make important contributions. History rewards great people, but rarely great groups. But an organization cannot succeed without a group contributing deeply to that success. Lead by promoting the value of group success and reward groups for their achievement. In the long run, that provides everyone with the incentive to learn and grow.

4. Create desirable difficulties. We use technology to make things easier for us. And, of course, there are lots of things that ought to be easy. It is wonderful that we can send documents across the globe in seconds and that we can get research papers with the click of a link. But technology cannot make learning easier. Gaining true understanding of complex situations requires effort. Don’t just provide summaries of key concepts to group members. If there is something that people need to understand, encourage everyone to dig in and work on it.

5. Support smart habits. There is a lot that we do mindlessly each day. We don’t have to think about where the light switch is in our office or how to find the gas and brake pedals in the car. Those habits are smart, because they allow us to focus our mental energy on more important matters. Similarly, don’t disrupt the habits of people in your organization without careful planning. Open workspaces, for example, don’t allow people to develop habits for where their desk supplies are and can cause disruption. Changes in internal websites and forms cause people to think about tasks that should be mindless. Change for the sake of change costs more time and mental effort than it is worth.

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9 Responses to “5 ways to promote a culture of smart thinking”

  1. "Too often, people assume that the fiercest critic in the room is the one who looks smartest," this is a great insight.

    One of my favorite quotes is by JFK, "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were."

    It's so easy to criticize new ideas, and far more difficult to do what you recommend: "focusing first on the positive parts of a new proposal before finding potential flaws."

  2. Jan says:

    Great heading but not such great tips. For example, on no 5 smart habits, open work spaces are great for team work and can inspire unexpected innovation through unplanned cross fertilization. A new look or feel of an intranet site could inspire new thoughts and ideas. But I agree with you that focus is key. The main question is therefore how best to focus – and it the same time not closing the door on new opportunities. This takes leadership as well as robust dialogue up and down the line, and incentives for innovation.

  3. Peter Bloomfield says:

    It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
    Mahatma Gandhi

  4. Uday says:

    Agree with jan great title and headings. Item one is no
    multitasking and the advice is to shut off phones browsing
    when thinking. That is very minimal and obvious. Multitasking
    is the exclusive ability of the human brain within skills and multitasking
    is not literally simultaneously. Humans are assigned repetitive and boring
    tasks to complete the measurement of 8 hrs for calculating
    remuneration. Humans mind can do so much more so the
    advice heading of no multitasking is okay to mention
    the cognitive problem with simultaneous multitasking. But
    Human potential is hardly exploited because we have no measure
    to reward and measure only input. Output measure is from
    the old industrial era where manhours and machine
    hours are on a resource spread sheet. However great headings
    And sound advice.

  5. [...] Markman’s blog on promoting a culture of smart thinking includes a tip on staying open to ideas. He recommends that you allow fresh information some [...]

  6. burçlar says:

    Great tips.. I will also convey them to my students if you permit.

  7. elsiebyrne says:

    Your post provide value and substance to the topic discussed. Great job!

  8. SEO Proposal says:

    This is great advise, especially for small service-oriented organizations.

  9. Having the right tools makes a real difference most of the time. Thanks.

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