Use Visual Thinking to Get Hired on the Spot

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A few days ago, I had a chat with a former student who was looking to move up into a managerial position. She was depressed – she’d had interview after interview, but never got the call back. She’d faithfully followed all of the traditional advice on interviewing, with no success. What could she do?

There is so much material written about acing an interview that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I googled “how to get hired on your first interview” and got 183 million search items!

Some of them give really funny advice. Don’t wear red socks, they say, don’t drink Coca Cola if you are applying for a job with Pepsi, spend a good chunk of money on your first Nordstrom suit, and don’t come across as an eager beaver. Seriously?

Others suggest reasonable common sense suggestions, like this article at Monster. Another Forbes Magazine article says, “don’t curb your enthusiasm,” be a storyteller, follow up diligently.

These are all nice pieces of wisdom.

But, I told her, if you want to get hired on the spot, you just need to do these two things:

1. Show that you know their company or business inside and out; and

2. Bring new ideas to the table that are relevant, exciting, and make you sound like you’re already working there!

Learn this, and you can wear red socks for your first interview, I promise.

But how can you do this, before you’ve even talked to them? I’ve broken it down into steps, which if you follow, will help you make an unforgettable impression.

One week (one month is even better!) before the interview:

Learn all you can about the company. Print out or scribble down your notes on flipcharts gathered from their website, CEO interviews, and other company data. Figure out their strategy, competitors, and trends in this industry. Your desk or basement floor should look like a war room – pieces of paper, flip charts, pictures, articles. Everything should remind you of what this company does and what it prides itself on.

Think about it day in and day out. Imagine yourself in the CEO’s shoes.

Next, turn off your mobile phone, send the kids outside, and THINK. Figure out how exactly your experience, your connections or your creative vision can help this organization achieve its goals. Picture yourself already in the job; today is your first day. What actions will you recommend to your boss that your new division take immediately? What will you tell him or her about where you want to take your group in the long term? How will you lead your team to get there, starting now?

One fantastic tool that you absolutely must apply for this challenge is visual thinking. Go to your library or Amazon and beg/borrow/buy Dan Roam’s bestselling book The Back of The Napkin or Sunni Brown’s The Doodle Revolution. These two authors provide you with down-to-earth, practical principles of visual thinking that will change how you look at any situation. (I believe that my small investment in The Back of The Napkin provided me with the biggest ROI – jobs that I loved.)

These principles work every time, because they trigger your thinking.

Remember, unless you have ideas and concrete proposals to offer, there is no way that your beautiful smile, sharp Nordstrom suit and new Zappos shoes, can help you get that job! Don’t just tell them about your experience – instead, use your experience to generate useful ideas for your new employer. It’s your ability to synthesize elements, not some sort of static knowledge or list of achievements, that your employer wants and needs.

3 Days Before the Interview:

Gather the ideas and proposals you’d like to present to your future boss via this interview. Compile your presentation on 4 x 4 index cards. Each card should carry only one strategic message. Lay them down nicely on your dinner table. See what flows and what doesn’t, and be selective. Scratch the wrong stuff out.

Now, your next step, which is absolutely essential, is to create your breakthrough flipcharts – no more than 3. I suggest one to three. These flipcharts will have your best thoughts, smartly drawn.

Why is this so critical? Simple: your future employer doesn’t expect this. Most interviewers don’t use a visual thinking approach themselves, and they certainly don’t expect one from a job applicant. They usually expect a verbal answer. It’s possible that some folks tried to impress them with some boring powerpoint slides, but you are going to be different. Your drawings show that you’ve done a lot of strategy work already. Most importantly, you are NOT faking it – you now know more than any other applicants.

So roll up your sleeves, and do some artwork as prescribed by Roam. I promise – it’s not difficult, even for the most artistically challenged of us.

1 Day Before the Interview:

Well, we’re almost there. Now it’s time to create your superb American Idol presentation, your Gaithersburg Address, your Fulton Speech, your Cicero moment, where the main player is you. You are the message; you are the most important part of the interview process. Don’t hide behind the curtains of mediocre presentations, but memorize your stuff like your ABCs. Practice it aloud. Let your family, your friends or your pets interview you and hear how you masterfully transition from being interviewed to presenting your vision.

Remember, you are going to get it right. At the first interview.

The Night Before the Interview:

Don’t go to Starbucks, don’t brew your double espresso. Make your mind rest. Sleep. It is in your sleep that idea chemistry happens and all your elements come into place.Remember how Dmitri Mendeleev dreamed up the periodic table of elements?

At the Interview:

Just do it. You’ve put so much time into preparing, that now all you need to do is let it flow. Afterward, you’ll wonder why no one else walked in with ideas. It was so obvious, right?

P.S. Just for the fun of it, wear your bright red socks.

P.P.S. Send me a message if you used my advice, and tell me what happened. If you’re not hired on the spot, I’ll buy you a coffee next time you’re in DC.

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Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. 

Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, innovative marketing and fundraising.



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Reignite Your Thinking: Pause. Observe. See.

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Biang

“Grasp the great symbol and all under heaven will come to you.” – Lao Zi

My Chinese language teacher taught me how to uncover the mysterious meanings of Chinese characters.

Look at the character carefully and take note of every detail, every stroke, he’d say. Then pause. Think freely. Find the root. Learn about its connections. Combine the elements in your imagination. Thus you will find one meaning. But then, continue. Imagine other possibilities. Try to look at this character as a whole and devour its distinct components. Each character depicts life in its very essence. It’s a reflection of life on the bottom of the brush. Each drop of ink creates a new connection. And so, you will find deeper meanings.

When you look at a Chinese character, you may see it in multiple ways: as a symbol, a metaphor, a mysterious representation of human thought, a simplistic view of reality or a word with some hidden meaning. Often it looks like a maze or a puzzle you want to untangle. Paradoxically, the deeper you go into the maze, the wider the range of possible routes out of it. And you never return the same. Each character seems to combine a multitude of qualities in one.

As stated in the Harbin Institute of Technology study on the connection between the Chinese characters and human conceptual thinking, “the structures and forms of the Chinese characters are an important source of evidence for what the human conceptual system is. The conceptual system is a matter of metaphor and the metaphors emerge from our physical or bodily experience and activities.” Character is based on analogy. In fact, analogy is “the most fundamental Chinese way of perceiving and thinking. It is analogy that allows human beings to use what they already know to provide understanding of what they do not know.”

Let’s look at the character at the beginning of the article. I bet it was one of the reasons you decided to read this.

As you may be aware, each Chinese character is a combination of strokes. To master the characters, one must learn the order and the direction of each individual stroke. Since ancient characters were based on true images and depicted what people saw, it’s fairly easy to guess the meaning of each character.

For example, try to guess the meaning of these:

They represent:

  1. Tree
  2. Big

How did you do? Was this an easy task for you?

If you look at the character 信 xìn, which means “truth”, “faith”, “sincerity,” it consists of its radical 亻ren which means “human” and 言 yán – “speech”. Would you understand its meaning knowing what each component means?

Not always. Let’s get back to our cover character. It is actually one of the most complex characters, Biáng and it is made up of 57 strokes and contains a whole house of characters, including horse, speak, grow, moon, knife, heart, roof and walk among others. Biáng originated from Shaanxi province and is used to describe biangbiang noodles, a distinctive dish of wide, flat noodles.

Noodles? Really? Here the answer lies in not knowing all the pieces, but in seeing the larger context.

Yet, you may ask, what does this all have to do with thinking?

We often forget that our life looks more like Chinese characters than a logical chain of events. When we learn to find the root, combine the elements and create the right analogy, we start to see what others might not. This brings us to the power of observation and systems thinking, the true magical element of powerful thinking.

In his bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman discusses two prevalent ways of thinking, System 1 (quick, automatic, effortless, implicit and emotional) and System 2 thinking (logical). Most people I know use System 1 thinking far more regularly than System 2 thinking. Why? Because it’s easier, it works, and it’s reliable. Kahneman introduces the new term WYSIATI, “what you see is all there is,” the faulty assumption that there is nothing else to see except for what is in plain sight. Or is there?

Enter Max Bazerman, codirector of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Straus Professor at Harvard Business School, with his latest book, “The Power of Noticing.” Bazerman argues that in today’s world, the “noticer” or observerthe person who sees the most details and can best decipher anomalies –is the most powerful person.

Why do we constantly miss disasters even when the information is in plain sight? Bazerman refers to the infamous Sandusky case, the “Challenger” tragedy, and Enron’s and Madoff’s dramatic fiascos that could have been averted.

Why do we fail to see the gorilla in the room?

Simply because we don’t pay attention to the details. Or, we see them too closely to really notice them…we are “insiders.” This is the difference between an insider’s and outsider’s points of view.

Sometimes you need to become an alien, an outsider and throw away all preconceived notions. Kahneman notes that the “insider tends to view a given situation as unique, while the outsider is more capable of generalizing across situations.” Further, “taking an outsider’s perspective on a problem allows us to notice a broader set of relevant information.”

Indeed, noticing is an integral part of systems thinking. Gary Bartlett from Prodsol International notes in his study, “systemic thinking enables us to deal with the elements of a situation in concert rather than in isolation. Its power lies in its simplicity and effectiveness. It offers the potential to find systemic focus in any situation. It enables us to secure the dramatic benefits promised by the systems thinking revolution. The beauty of it is that anyone can use it to gain deeper insight about anything. The primary barrier to overcome is the cognitive dissonance that arises from searching for something before you know what it looks like – especially when you aren’t even certain it’s there.”

How Do You Develop Systems Thinking?

“Find repeating patterns,” advises Bartlett, “and do it deliberately and systematically.” As Bartlett points out, “systemic problem solving is different. It doesn’t define the problem narrowly, but systemically. In other words, it helps one define one’s frame of reference (the box, mindset or management paradigm) clearly, thereby creating a freedom that ignoring that frame of reference can never create.”

For example, here is how Bartlett describes one of his techniques, which you can practice on any issue:

  1. List elements (of the pattern you’re looking for – or any elements if you don’t know what you’re looking for)
  2. Find common themes across the elements (similarity between two elements is a lot easier that similarity across a large number of elements)
  3. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes.

Simple? Steve Jobs once noted that “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

So unless you deliberately push yourself into this path, it won’t come as a given.

In fact, systems thinkers must develop particular “habits,” or specific ways to approach challenges and situations. The Waters Foundation, which actively supports systems thinking in schools, created a list of 13 habits. These habits of systems thinkers include: considering long and short-term consequences of actions; recognizing there might be unintended consequences to your actions; identifying the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships; and looking at things from different angles and perspectives.

Systems thinking provides us with a new lens to glean the meaning of events happening in the world.

3 Challenges to Your Thinking Success

Even if we’re excited to get our new systems thinking in place, we are faced with three enormous hurdles. They are time, information overload and bad habits. Well, no one needs any explanation about time. But let’s look at the other two.

It’s alarming to observe that in the world where information has become so abundant, a whole generation of people is beginning to lose focus on what is most important. With few exceptions, educators fail to emphasize the need for critical and systems thinking. The minutiae of the moment become the king. The Apple watch and other wearable technology are about to gain yet another foothold into our inner world. When enough is enough?

The paradox of Apple, Samsung, Tesla and other technology innovation leaders is that the very geniuses behind them use systems thinking to create irresistible consumer products which make us forget about thinking and delve into consumption. I am no technology Luddite, but the reality is that without the discipline and hygiene of thought consumption, we’re at risk of losing our most powerful tool – the ability to think. And then how are we going to be better than machines?

Studies have shown that our brain’s attention span has significantly dropped. In his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr, the technology writer and bestselling author, writes: “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”

As I’ve been writing this, my brain has sent me numerous urgent signals to check my smartphone. I’m resisting, but not for long. The problem is that our brains have acquired a habit, or better put, an addiction. Now you may disagree and call it a compulsive reaction or habit. Yet, as Shelly DeBois asserts in her Fortune Magazine article, “the difference between an addiction and other kinds of compulsive behavior, loosely, is that addictions cause people do something compulsively even though it’s detrimental to their lives.”

According to Judson Brewer, the medical director at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, smartphone addiction works the same way as slot machine gambling – through an associative learning pathway. Every jackpot or email message buzz, or any other “intermittent reward” you receive, makes your brain feel awesome and is imprinted into your memory. The expectation or craving for another creates a powerful combination that’s hard to beat.

What You Can Do Today to Take Back Your Thinking Life?

It’s maddening that we waste so much time today, but it will be worse tomorrow. Here are some simple steps to get back to your very core of being human again.

1. Bring White Space Into Your Life

Just like a good text page needs a white space for better viewing, your mind needs some space to begin using those brain muscles. Identify some intervals in your daily schedule to regain your independence from the digital world. You will feel free, I promise.

2. Control Your Email Consumption

Yes, there is life after email! Schedule your email time. Tim Ferriss, the author of the “Four Hour Workweek,” suggests not even checking email until 11 a.m. Regardless of the schedule, set one, and keep it. It’s easier said than done, and your dopamine doses are highly dependent on that desperate press of a smartphone button. Yet, if you are slave to your email box, there is no chance that you can deliver a super performance.

3. Reflect

If you want to understand the world better, begin with yourself. Reflection is the best tool to explore your inner self. Find 10 minutes a day to jot down some thoughts that have been on your mind lately. They needn’t be profound, but the more you reflect and write, the more understanding you’ll gain of yourself.

Now: Pause. Observe. See.

Frijof Capra, a brilliant physicist and philosopher fascinated by Eastern philosophy, produced the breathtaking book The Tao of Physics, which provides a stunning exploration of the links between Western and Eastern thought.

Capra was impressed at how scientists in two different worlds arrived at the same conclusions via radically different approaches. More than anything, Capra noted that just by using deep thinking and observation, ancient Chinese scientists saw the same picture of the universe that Capra and his team came up with centuries apart.

Perhaps we need to follow this example. Turn off your smartphone. Pause for a minute, observe the universe around you and see something that you’ve never seen before.