Understanding thought processing for more effective project management

Introduction

In this paper and presentation you will discover:

  • How your brain works and how you can make it work better for you
  • How to identify the thoughts that are supporting you and those that are sabotaging your success
  • How Axiology and the Three Classes of Value affect your productivity, poise, passion, and peace of mind as well as your project(s)
  • A new way of looking at the thinking and choices that affect you, your team and your stakeholders
  • How Axiology can improve your leadership abilities, your critical thinking, and your productivity by helping you THINK clearly all the time

Brain Workings Basics

Your Brain

The first important point about your brain is that no two brains are alike. You may think this is quite obvious, yet how often do you expect others to do things the exact same way as you do? As a leader, when you are trying to help your team members think anything through, you may make the unconscious assumption that the other person’s brain works the same as yours. So you input their problem into your brain and see how the neural connections in your brain put together a picture that gets to the solution. You then tell your colleague what you would do and are also convinced that it is what they should do.

What seems obvious to your brain may not be so natural and obvious to others who have had difference experiences than you. Doing the thinking for your team members and colleagues is not just a waste of your own time and energy, it also gets in the way of other people working out the right answers that will work for them.

The next point about your brain is that it is a connection machine. Your brain’s job is to create mental maps for you. Every thought, skill, and attribute you have is a complex map of connections between bits and pieces of information stored in many parts of your brain.

Your brain is always looking to conserve energy. Gerhard Roth, neurobiologist, said, “The brain is constantly trying to automate processes, thereby dispelling them from consciousness; in this way, its work will be completed faster, more effectively and at a lower metabolic level. Consciousness, on the other hand, is slow, subject to error and ‘expensive’” (Roth, 2003).

Your Habits

Your brain conserves energy by forming habits. It takes repetitive conscious thoughts from the slow and energy-consuming working brain (prefrontal cortex) and moves them to your habit center. It pushes the mental map down into the part of your brain that holds long-term memories and processes (subcortex), which has far more capacity than your working brain. This process is very useful, because as you learn you don’t have to continually relearn. For instance, once you learn how much pressure to put on the accelerator and the brake, you don’t have to consciously think about it when you drive your vehicle. You are on “autopilot,” using your habit center.

While this sounds like a useful and helpful neurological process, let’s examine it more closely. Habits are not only formed consciously but also unconsciously or subconsciously. Occasionally, habits that you form from your past experiences, which became hard wired in your brain, no longer support you in your current roles and experiences. It is those habits that we will discuss in the rest of this paper.

Axiology and Its Importance

Your Thinking

The average person thinks about twelve thousand to fifty thousand thoughts per day. Over 95% of those thoughts are thoughts that you’ve thought before. Very few of them are original. Your brain is constantly recognizing these patterns and forming habits.

Every thought, choice, action, and reaction you have ever had, made, or taken in your life is based upon your perception of what will create the greatest net value in your life at that moment. It’s how you are wired; it’s how the human mind works. Values and valuing are the backbone of thinking.

Success (in the most positive sense) is what happens when you are accurate in your perception of what actions will add the greatest value. Every mistake, failure, shortcoming, upset, and fear is the result of a misperception of value.

In the 1960s, Dr. Robert S. Hartman made a discovery that allows you to quantifiably measure your critical thinking and valuing habits. He discovered the principles that provide order and structure to valuing. Using mathematics, he made what was previously intangible tangible, much in the same way that Galileo applied mathematics to motion and made it tangible. For us today, it seems absolutely natural, a tangible thing, that if you go a hundred miles in two hours you have a speed of fifty miles per hour. But for Galileo to produce the equation v = s/t was a tremendous achievement. Dr. Hartman’s logic was also a tremendous achievement that provides us with tangible measurements of our thinking.

Foundations of Axiology

Dr. Hartman is known as the father of formal axiology. In 1972, Dr. Hartman was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics for his discoveries. One such discovery was that every one of your thoughts will fall into one of three dimensions or classes of value. He identified each of these classes of value as follows:

Systemic: These are thoughts that are conceptual and theoretical in nature. They may involve systems, procedures, plans and expectations. This is the class of value that is all about ideas and mental constructs. In a project, these are the project plan, design, and the methodologies to be followed.

Extrinsic: These are thoughts that involve the practical and situational. Extrinsic things can be measured, compared, assessed, and identified. In a project, these would be the tasks and the metrics.

Intrinsic: These are personal and spiritual. The intrinsic involves infinitely valuable things like people, knowledge, freedom, courage, and integrity. In a project, these are your team members, stakeholders, executive sponsors, and the rest of the people who would be affected by their work on the project as well as the results of the project.

Three Classes of Value in Projects

Systemic Value

When a project is viewed systemically, it is viewed as a compilation of parts (tasks) of an exact, calculated system or plan. The tasks are a bundle of fragments that need to be checked off. When a team member is only valued systemically, he or she is a doer of the task. If you ask what they are doing the reply is simply, “I’m just working on my tasks.” The team members in a systemically valued project will only work for the pay and try to do the least amount of work for the most pay.

Extrinsic Value

When viewed extrinsically, project work is classified by functions. Each team member is associated with a role and performs specific functions. As an information technology project manager, you may have architects, developers, engineers, testers, packagers, and so forth. Each worker is paid according to skill or ability characterized by measurable job evaluations and merit systems. The team members in an extrinsic system will work for their salary and do as much work as they think they are getting paid to do. You will hear statements like “That’s not my job” or “I’m not getting paid enough to do that.”

Intrinsic Value

Each team member is viewed as a human being of infinite value. The team members in an intrinsic system will give their complete selves to their work with a sense of responsibility for themselves, their colleagues, the company, and the project. There will be no line between management and the individual contributors. There will be true collaboration. Each team member will want to help every other team member succeed.

Take a look at your current project and projects of the past. Have you ever heard your team members say things like “I’m not getting paid to do that” or “That’s not my problem”? If so, you are not being as effective as you can be. You may be valuing them systemically or extrinsically, but they do not feel intrinsically valued and are not giving their all.

Understanding Value

Understanding how humans value and make value judgments leads you to understand HOW thoughts are processed by you and your project team. This can give you the ability to lead rather than manipulate or coerce.

When you understand how you are valuing your team members, stakeholders, and others involved with the project, you can begin to see how to be a more effective project manager. And remember, how you are viewing your colleagues depends a great deal on the valuing and thinking habits that you have developed throughout your life (not on the actual performance or ideas of your colleagues).

Your brain is hard-wired to always choose what adds the most value to you at that moment. Some of your valuing habits may not be in line with the timeless principles of value and success. When you understand how your brain makes value judgments, you can begin to consciously distance yourself from unsupportive thoughts and consciously choose those thoughts that will lead to your success.

Your “6 Advisors™”

Metaphor of Thinking/Valuing

You have “advisors” in your life. Friends, family, mentors, peers, and even paid consultants may be advisors to you. Some of your advisors may be very knowledgeable; others, however, are not. You can choose to listen to or ignore these advisors because they are just that…advisors.

Whether you realize it or not, you also have Advisors within your mind. You have six very different and unique thought processes that influence your decisions, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, personality, behaviors, and ultimately, the results of your life. Metaphorically, we call these six dimensions of thought your “6 Advisors.” You can choose to listen to or ignore these Advisors, just like any other advisors in your life.

Your 6 Advisors are divided into two distinct worlds. Your External World Advisors give you advice on how they think you should function in the world—from your skin out. Your Internal World Advisors give you advice on how they think you should value yourself—from your skin in.

Imagine sitting at the boardroom table of your mind, three External World Advisors corresponding to each of Hartman’s dimensions of value on one side and three Internal World Advisors on the other side (See Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1: Your 6 Advisors

Before we continue there is a key principle to understand. You are not your thoughts. You are the one at the head of the boardroom table in your mind. You have the ability as a human being to observe your thoughts. You have the ability to follow the direction of a thought or ask your mind for another thought. The choice is yours at the head of the table.

Your Valuing Habits

Mathematically, the intrinsic is infinitely more valuable than the extrinsic. The extrinsic is infinitely more valuable than the systemic. As a project manager and leader, you are often encouraged to focus on the plans, processes, and procedures (the systemic value) along with tasks, skills, abilities, and metrics (the extrinsic value) associated with the project and project personnel. After all, that is why the Project Management Institute (PMI) exists. PMI grew from the need for systemic practices. In 1969, five people gathered to pull together the best ideas and practices around project management. Over the years, PMI matured by gathering and analyzing data to assemble metrics that tangibly demonstrated (extrinsically) the value of each of the best practices.

However, the processes and practices that honed your project management abilities to their current level can be the very barriers that keep you from moving forward. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you over-focused on your agenda, your project plan, your processes?
  • Do your thoughts and ideas keep you from being present in the NOW?
  • Do you try to avoid conflict and ignore problems to please people?
  • Do you see team members as human-doings rather than human-beings?
  • Do you carry baggage (expectations, assumptions, etc.) between projects?
  • Do you get angry or frustrated when your expectations are not met?
  • Do you procrastinate and put things off to the last possible minute?

If you answered “yes” or “maybe” to any of these questions, you are in luck. You have the ability to change the thought habits (your internal dialogue) that are creating these barriers.

Let’s take a look at each of these challenges and others through the 6 Advisors metaphor.

Measuring Critical Valuing Habits

Looking First at You, the Project Manager

As a leader, you have critical valuing habits that you have developed over the years. These may have been developed intentionally or not. In either case, let’s look at how these habits impact your project management.

Identifying Your Out-of-Balance Valuing Habits and Thoughts

Let’s examine each one of your 6 Advisors to give you an idea of the types of thoughts to look out for.

Empathy- Intuition

This thought process or Advisor deals with the capacity to put yourself in the shoes of another person and accurately assess that person and/or the circumstances being experienced by that person. When out of balance, you may recognize the following tendencies in this Advisor:

  • Puts up walls of resistance; skeptical, cautious and untrusting
  • Impressed or intimidated by appearance and/or titles
  • Values only those who think like them and treats people unfairly when they don’t fit in
  • Believes a person’s value is solely dependent on their performance
  • Questions the legitimacy of another person’s requests

Practical Judgment

This Advisor handles your capacity to be fully present in the “Now” and engaged in what you’re doing, to know what needs to be done, how best to do it, and how to stay focused on the task. When out of balance, you may recognize the following inclinations of this Advisor:

  • Difficulty finding excitement, passion, and joy in your work, and staying focused on your current tasks
  • Impatient, insensitive, or even inconsiderate when things are not done well or on time
  • Frustrated, overwhelmed, or even annoyed by all the things you have to do
  • Resistant to order, structure, and attempts to control the way things are done
  • Blow things out of proportion or minimize their seriousness

Systems Thinking

These thought processes involve your capacity to think clearly, to plan, to solve problems, and to be open to different, new, or creative ideas. When Out of Balance, you’ll notice that you:

  • Resist or rebel when others try to make you conform, and disrespect or overly respect people in authority
  • Are closed and unsupportive of ideas that don’t agree with yours
  • Consistently point out the flaws in other people’s ideas
  • Are uncomfortable, skeptical, or closed to ideas that interfere with or threaten your ideas
  • Easily lose focus or allow interruptions to plans and schedules

Self-Esteem

This Advisor handles your capacity to accurately assess, unconditionally accept, and intrinsically value YOU. When out of balance, this Advisor:

  • Discourages you from accepting yourself without condition or judgment
  • Makes you think that your self-worth is tied to how you look, the things you do, and/or the things you own
  • Causes your actions to be inconsistent with your ideas and opinions
  • Makes it difficult for you to separate your ideas and opinions from your self-worth
  • Makes you feel obligated to sacrifice your time and energy to meet the needs of others
  • Makes you unable to move forward without dwelling on your past mistakes

Role Awareness

This advisor deals with your capacity to understand, fully appreciate, and find joy, fulfillment, and value in the way you invest your life. When out of balance, this Advisor:

  • Expects you to do too many things and do them all perfectly
  • Has unrealized or unrealistic expectations about how rewarding life should be
  • Over-focuses on recognition, awards, or compensation for validating your worth
  • May expect less for yourself than you are actually capable of achieving
  • Functions poorly in stressful situations
  • Finds little personal value in the way you spend your time and energy

Self-Direction

These thought habits run your capacity to be motivated, guided, and directed by a sense of meaning and purpose in everything you do. When out of balance, this Advisor:

  • Thinks that you “have to,” “should,” or “must” do the things you do
  • May believe that the work you do does not add value to your life
  • Creates vivid mental images or emotional impressions about the way it thinks your life should be and becomes attached to these ideas
  • Resists or discourages you from trying new things, even when they could be in your best interest
  • May think that you should never question your ideas, beliefs, or values
  • May not have a clear or strong sense of direction, meaning, or purpose for your life

Identifying Your Supporting Valuing Habits

The Hartman Value Profile

Hartman developed a tool that accurately measures the thought processes that influence human behavior. The Hartman Value Profile (HVP) instrument is an axiological inventory that measures a person’s capacity to make value judgments concerning the world and one’s self. It uses two sets of words and phrases. These words and phrases are the linguistic equivalents of axiological equations.

Using these axiological equations, the HVP measures the pattern of decision-making that a person uses when processing information. Unlike other assessments, it is not a self-reporting instrument and does not ask respondents to describe themselves, their traits, or their tendencies. Thus, it is not as susceptible to bias as some personality and behavioral inventories. The profile places its emphasis upon thinking, not behaving. It recognizes that the same behavior can spring from different decision-making styles in different people.

Research has found that you think first, and then you feel emotions and then you take action to achieve results. The HVP allows us to determine the root thinking style that lies at the base of your decision-making. It pinpoints capacities you actually possess.

Note: The HVP is backed by hundreds of validity studies performed over the last 50 years, including EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) studies that lend great confidence that the profile instruments measure a person’s basic value structure and the dynamics of their value judgments.

The 6 Advisors Assessment

The 6 Advisors Assessment Report uses a proprietary application of the HVP in order to provide a clear and concise view of the thoughts that support or sabotage your efforts.

How does the assessment work? You are given two worksheets. The first set of words and phrases, Worksheet 1, measures your external (world) Advisors. The second set measures your internal (self) Advisors.

By following the instructions and ranking these items, your results are calculated and presented online as a series of six graphs, one for each of your Advisors. You will notice that some of the bars are green and in the center. These are considered “balanced” capacities for you and will support you in your efforts. You may also notice a few yellow, orange or red bars in your graphs. These are thought habits that are out of balance and not supporting your efforts to succeed. To take a free test drive of this assessment, visit PMBrilliance.com (See Exhibit 2).

Example of assessment results

Exhibit 2: Example of assessment results

In order be more effective, you must learn to respond to your balanced thoughts. (These would be top-right and top-center graphs or thought processes in Exhibit 2.) Yet, in many cases where you are under pressure or stress, you may tend to react to the out-of-balance thoughts (which may sound louder or be more recognizable) before consciously hearing and choosing the balanced thought.

What would be different in your leadership and management abilities if you could stop doing the things that you knew you should stop doing? What would be different if you began to excel at the head of your boardroom table in your mind? What if you began identifying an unsupportive idea or reaction and instead choose the better thoughts from your more balanced advisors at your mind’s boardroom table? What if you were able to help your team members improve in a similar way?

Changing Your Critical Valuing Habits

Many times our educational processes encourage us to focus on correcting our weaknesses. As you look at your results, know that you cannot unthink a thought. You cannot simply erase a thought habit. Those neural pathways have been created in your brain. You can, however, consciously replace those habits by creating stronger (supportive) habits. It will take time and effort (and maybe a little outside coaching help).

In order to replace your out-of-balance thought habits, you must focus on your strengths. When you review your results, look at the Advisor that is giving you the most balanced thoughts. This is the Advisor that you want to choose to listen to during the pivotal moments of your day. Your balanced thoughts will help you in putting aside your own agenda (baggage) and allow you to fully step into the world of those around you to provide the leadership they need and accomplish the goals of your project more effectively.

Takeaway Points

  • Value is measured in three dimensions…Intrinsic, Extrinsic, and Systemic. All three are needed for successful project management.
  • YOU are not your thoughts. YOU are the observer of your thoughts.
  • The only things that YOU truly control in this world are the thoughts to which you choose to respond.
  • Success is the result of consistently making good choices at pivotal moments throughout your day. Success is a conscious choice!
  • Take your free assessment by going to PMBrilliance.com. There is absolutely no obligation or cost, and your results are completely confidential.

Austin, J. (1991). The Hartman Value Profile (HVP & HVPII). Retrieved June 25, 2008 from http://www.hartmaninstitute.org/html/AustinHVP.htm

Edwards, R. B., & Davis, J. W. (1991). Forms of value and valuation: Theory and applications. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Hartman, R. S. (undated). The measurement of value. Retrieved March 13, 2009 from http://hartmaninstitute.org/html/MeasurementOfValue.htm

Rock, D. (2006). Quiet leadership: Help people think better – Don’t tell them what to do. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Roth, G. (2003). The quest to find consciousness. Scientific American Mind, 14(1).

Six Advisors, Inc. (2006). About your 6 Advisors. Retrieved June 25, 2008 from http://www.6advisors.com/01_about.htm

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2009, Traci Duez
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Amsterdam, Netherlands

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