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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 16 January 2014

The Cognitive Value of Planning Ahead

It takes the human brain (on average) 8 to 10 seconds to process new information; absorb it through the senses, run it through the limbic emotional response filter and figure out how to react.  The more new information you're faced with - a disaster situation, a crisis or a scandal - the longer that time frame gets.

This is why 70% of people freeze up like deer in headlights under duress.  They wait for someone to bring answers while they process, or they err on the side of "do nothing and this will blow over" as a confabulated rationale for their inactivity.  15% panic and do or say things that make no rational sense, like denying inflammatory comments that are already on the public record.

Public service providers try to reduce the amount of challenges people have in processing information (and therefore getting/doing what they need) by standardizing delivery mechanisms, symbols, etc.  Of course, taken to extremes this explains the colonial instinct and cultural stigma, but that's a post for another day.

The way to reduce the cognitive processing period and respond quickly and effectively to disasters, crises and scandals is through drills and pre-planning.  When you have already considered contingencies and planned/drilled accordingly, you've taken the processual (if not the emotional) cognitive function out the equation; instead of absorbing and responding to new data, you're pulling up old files and their related action plans.

"Remember your training, men!"  There's a reason that's a line soldiers hear often.

The lesson, therefore, is this - it pays to think ahead.

Albert Einstein
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

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