Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way

Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way

Given the positive feedback on this series so far, I have returned to the front of Great Mental Models so we can gain full value from this excellent book.

In doing so I found a very useful set of ideas which relate directly to our need to communicate robust thinking.

It’s all about perspective …

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says

‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’

After a while one of the young fish turns to the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”

In this early part of the book, Shane Parrish talks about three thinking failures: not having the right perspective or vantage point, ego-induced denial and distance from the consequences of our decisions.

Others might describe these as cognitive biases, also a useful tool for checking ourselves.

In our worlds these three thinking failures affect our decision making and hence our communication profoundly.

In this post I am reinforcing some of what we cover in the core modules while also adding some extra nuances to help you communicate robustly.

Keep your ‘eyes fresh' so you can maintain a healthy sense of perspective. This is where understanding our audience deeply comes in. We pose five questions in the first part of our So What Strategy process to help untangle this.

These questions help us work out who really is our audience and what we need to do to engage them in our idea. It is not at all uncommon for this analysis to change not just what we think we need to communicate, but who we communicate to.

Remember the influence of egos – our own and others. This is essential if we are to learn from others both as a giver and receiver of information. As a communicator, we may fear criticism too much and hesitate to share our good ideas. As a receiver, we may be too critical if we think someone else’s idea will upend our own achievements.

The risk is that we are too invested in our ideas to expose them to proper critique and that we bump into others’ egos by not having sufficiently navigated around what mattered to them.

Create the right balance between proximity and distance. Sufficient distance gives us perspective and clarity (aka putting our storyline in a drawer for an hour and getting lunch before checking it), but too much means we don’t see the issues that matter. Being removed from the consequences of our decisions can be a real trap.

We offer specific strategies to help members ‘freshen their eyes’ so they can maintain a critical perspective when reviewing their communication.

I hope that helps and look forward to sending you more ideas from The Great Mental Models again next week.

Kind regards,

PS – The Clarity First Waitlist is now open. Add your name to the list so you hear when the doors will before anyone else. We are limiting participation to 50 new members this time.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

Related posts include

From this series …

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate
  2. Further thinking tools  
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using Inversions to identify gaps in our thinking







Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.