Influence: The Art Of Counterintuitive Thinking

If you’d like to enjoy greater influence, train your mind to think counterintuitively…to see things that others don’t see.

We enjoy the company of those who are likeminded. Why wouldn’t we? They affirm our beliefs. But what if they’re as wrong as we are? What if they’re overlooking the same things we are? How does their affirmation helps us achieve what we desire?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t. What we need to learn, grow and progress are people who see things we don’t see, who have a different perspective than we do. Indeed, that is what we all need. And when we find these people, we treasure their counsel and invite them into our initiatives to help assure our success.

Becoming an influencer

The key to becoming a strong influencer is to see things others don’t see. In order to do that we need to train our minds to think counterintuitively. Our natural tendency is to trust our intuition…what seems logical to us. Yet time and again we find that the best solutions, the most effective path to what we desire, is not what we expected intuitively.

To illustrate this point, a botanist working with a purple and white African violet wanted to intensify the purple color so he made the white gene more recessive. The result was that the planted compensated for its loss by enhancing the white. In order to intensive the purple, the botanist needed to diminish the purple gene.

I’m certain that you can recall similar circumstances where the result you got was precisely the opposite of what you expected. That’s because the best solutions are often counterintuitive. This thought brings to mind a scene from the first Karate Kid movie. Daniel, the student, asks Mr. Miyagi, his teacher, how best to defend against a punch. Mr. Miyagi responds “No be there!” Now I don’t know about you, but when I first heard Daniel’s question I was thinking of counterpunches or some defensive action…not the very passive alternative of not being there.

The question then becomes “How do I train my mind to think counterintuitively?”

Counterintuitive thinking

It’s easier to train your mind when you make a game of it. Here’s the game. When you hear or read something ask yourself:

  • In which situations would that not hold true?
  • Under what circumstances might that not work?
  • Is there a simpler way to accomplish the same result?
  • Can I blend two or more seemingly disparate interests into a cohesive solution?

The fun is in demonstrating to yourself just how creative your mind is when responding to these questions.

One of my college professors opened my eyes to this approach when he assigned us the task of writing on any controversial topic we chose. The following week, he instructed us to write the opposite position. This simple assignment opened my eyes to how much validity exists on both sides of an argument. It also helped me see alternatives that could form the foundation for mutual agreement.

This game, when played daily, multiple times a day, results in you developing the ability to see things others aren’t seeing. As you share your insights with them, preferably in the form of questions, they will appreciate the wisdom of your insights and regularly seek your counsel and invite you into their initiatives. As your reputation grows, they’ll refer others to you as well.

Questions, not statements

Once you’ve identified alternative approaches, don’t make the mistake of telling the person that there is a better way. Instead, ask them questions like:

  • How would that work in this situation?
  • Are there circumstances in which that wouldn’t hold true?
  • Is there a simpler way to accomplish this result?
  • What would happen if we did [acb] instead of [abc]?
  • Is there a way in which we can accomplish both [all] of these goals?

Using questions allows them to discover the answers on their own and validate their answers with their own experiences.

For you

Influence is a wonderful tool. It affords you the ability to enrich others’ lives as well as your own. One of the things that you’ll discover as you play the game of counterintuitive thinking is that your subconscious mind suddenly begins to look for alternative perspectives to what’s being said or written. You no longer have to ask the questions, your subconscious mind has formed the habit of questioning everything…understanding that much of what we intuitively expect is seldom what really happens.

Remember, the game is initiated by simply asking:

  • In which situations would that not hold true?
  • Under what circumstances might that not work?
  • Is there a simpler way to accomplish the same result?
  • Can I blend two or more seemingly disparate interests into a cohesive solution?

Then ask them questions that allow the listener to discover the answer on their own.

Not only will you gain tremendous influence, you’ll enjoy experiencing creativity that you didn’t know you possessed.

For our kids

Help kids, especially those whose nature is trusting, to play a game in which they seek better solutions to what they initially think, hear or read. Let them know that our first impressions are often not the best alternative to what we want to accomplish.

Teach them to ask questions instead of challenging others’ thinking. Use questions to help them see what they’re overlooking so that they get to experience what others will experience when your child asks questions of them. The gift of counterintuitive thinking is one that will serve the kids in your life well…for their entire lives.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your influence-building tips in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, Always, enjoy your insights! I wonder if you and I play the game of counterintuitive thinking once a month at our routine luncheon 🙂

    • dfurtwengler

      Of course we do, Bill. It’s part of what makes those lunches so enjoyable.

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