The Equalture assessment measures personality traits, i.e. an essential element of who you are, meaning you might see a score that does not reflect your own ideas about your personality. This might be because you’ve acquired some techniques to help you be better in weaker areas that are not innate to who you are. Using techniques is great as we can’t be good at everything based on our genetic code. If you want to overcome certain challenges, you can research techniques to help you do this. Doing an assessment will tell you which skill sets you possess, and on which you might need to work to become more successful. You might have already found some amazing tools that help you with overcoming your obstacles, but we also want to give you some insights on what to look for to deal with this in your everyday and professional life.
Speed and accuracy tradeoff
Learning ability/working memory
measured by the Ferry game
A problem can be defined as a gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. Problem-solving is associated with our way of thinking and the behaviour we engage in to obtain the desired outcome we seek, which could be attaining a certain goal or finding a satisfactory answer to our questions. It can be as simple as deciding what you want to eat for breakfast, or as complex as building an electric car.
Being an essential skill for the 21st century, problem-solving has become one of the key requirements for (almost) every work position. Below you can find a few exercises you can do to enhance your problem-solving skills, ultimately facilitating your personal and work life.
The 5 WHYs’ method
Sun Tzu once said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Hence, the very first step of problem-solving is to know your “enemy”, which in this case is clarifying and defining the problem itself. Whenever a complex problem arises you may find it hard to get to the core of the problem. One method that you could use is the “5 WHYs’ Method”. Simply asking the '5 WHYs' when a problem appears in your mind you will get down to the root of the problem quicker. Let’s see an example:
Problem: I am always procrastinating on my work
Why: Why is it that you procrastinate?
Ans: Because I feel like I am overwhelmed with my task.
Why: Why do you feel overwhelmed?
Ans: The task is too difficult for me.
Why: Why is that too difficult for you?
Ans: I didn’t understand what my manager said and also never asked for help from coworkers.
Why: Why is it that you never asked for help from coworkers?
Ans: I am afraid that they will judge me as a stupid person.
Why: Why would they do so?
Ans: (I may start to reflect: are they really judging me or it’s just me over-thinking)
In this example, the root of the problem was not the procrastination itself. It turned out to be a completely different type of problem, which is the fear of judgement from others. The benefit of this method is that you don't actually need 5 times of asking “WHY” to reach the root of the problem. From the example above, you could stop at the third WHY (which is: Why is that too difficult for you?), and get a reason to act on procrastination. Try it out in your daily life or when you encounter a problem, it helps you go straight into the core of the problem.
Abandon problem-focused thought and embrace a solution-focused mind
After you have defined our problem, the next step is to stop thinking about why the problem occurs and focus instead on the solutions. Below are some simple steps that you can use to train your brain for a more effective way of problem-solving. It is called the PRACTICE model (Palmer, 2008):
(We already introduced a method for this)
Realistic goals developed
To know when a problem is considered solved, we need to develop a so-called SMART goal, where the goal we set needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, result-focused and time-bound.
Alternative solutions generated
After that, we generate as many solutions as possible for our problems.
Consideration of consequence
Consequently, we carefully consider the pros and cons of each solution. We can rate it using a scale of 1-10 for easier comparison.
Target (most feasible) solution
Choose the best solution for your problem.
Implementation of The ‘Chosen’ solution
Evaluate your solution.
Did they work? What can I do in the future to make the solution (or generating process) better? Frequently reflecting on your actions will help you grow, not only in your problem-solving process but also in your daily life.
This model may seem very complicated and lengthy, but it will come in handy and happen naturally in your mind through constant practice in your daily life. In the beginning, it's helpful to write down everything in the process (or type it down) for better visualization.
Change the language you used in your mind.
Language is a double-edged sword, which implies that it can be a powerful but also dangerous tool. “Problem” is a negative term, whereby we sense trouble whenever we hear it. However, what you can do is challenge your viewpoint toward the problems in your mind. You can treat problems as a learning opportunity. By using phrases like “what can I do to improve...” or “imagine that...”, you can encourage your brain to generate more creative solutions. Try to avoid convergent or negative language, like “I don’t think...” or “It’s hard to...”, which will limit your potential to be an advanced problem solver. It’s all about mindset: how you communicate with your brain shapes the outside world in your eyes.
measured by the Racer game
Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to spontaneously restructure existing knowledge, by switching mental sets, tasks, or strategies. It determines how flexibly we can adapt our thoughts and behaviours to new and unexpected situations in a constantly changing environment. It can reflect a person’s work approach when it comes to creativity, decision-making style, multi-tasking, and more.
Let’s say you are taking the same train to go to work every day, but you see that today, there is a disruption on the rails on your route. What do you do? Do you wait for the problem to be fixed, or do you look for alternative routes you can take? Whenever there are unexpected situations and your original plan is altered, having higher cognitive flexibility could help you to come up with alternative solutions faster.
While researchers have differences in opinions on whether or not some cognitive abilities can be enhanced, there are some suggestions of behaviours that might improve cognitive flexibility. We tend to believe that we need to make big changes to see significant improvements. However, improvement can be found in small steps. Let’s take a look at what small steps you could take to promote your cognitive flexibility, possibly facilitating your work- and daily life.
Do your daily routine slightly differently.
Are you a person that prefers to follow your fixed routine every day? That may lead to some rigidity when you face a sudden change. You could start by “surprising” yourself by changing a small thing on a daily basis. For example, you always want to have a coffee from the same shop before officially starting your work every day. To surprise your inner self, you could take a different route every second day to the same shop. Day by day, you might realise that the scenery or people you meet from different routes widen your perspectives and openness to change.
Get out of your comfort zone and experience differences.
You may have heard it many times before, but challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone can help a lot in this area. Our brain restricts us to try new things as a protective measure, since the unknown may also include threats. But sometimes, the brain focuses too strongly on basic survival. In a social context, challenging ourselves and exploring new adventures, leads to openness and tolerance. You may not find new things that you like immediately, but at least then you will know what you dislike. An additional advantage is that diversifying your experience may help to enhance your cognitive flexibility (Ritter, 2012)!
Challenge your thoughts frequently.
Our emotions distinguish us, human beings, from other living entities like plants for example. However, most of the time we let our emotions take over our rationality when it comes to thoughts. Practising to frequently challenge your thoughts can help you to broaden your perspective, free yourself from emotions, and increase your cognitive flexibility. For example, imagine you are feeling incompetent at your new job. What you can do is ask yourself: “What would I think about another person who just started a new job? Would I think they are incompetent too?” You probably would not, if that person had just started a new job. Thinking about the same situation from another perspective can help reframe your thought from “I am incompetent” to “I just need time to readjust to the new position”. Constantly practising thinking through situations from more than one perspective could open you up to other perspectives and novel changes.
Meeting new people.
Human beings are social. We stay in flocks and learn from each other. Our friends often have similar preferences and we like people who are similar to us. However, we do need perspectives from people with different cultures, personalities, and views. Meeting people from various backgrounds helps us discover diverse horizons. When we meet people who share fewer characteristics with us, we are forced to consider situations from their perspective. When travelling or moving to another country, for example, many situations may come up that lead to an “oh I never thought about this aspect before” reaction. Meeting new people allows you to learn about different cultures and ways of thought. Through those experiences, you may be more open to embracing new ideas and perspectives from others, ultimately making flexible thinking happen more naturally.
measured by the Pitch game
Collaboration can be simply defined as two or more people working together to achieve a common goal efficiently. We can also call it communication, cooperation, coordination, or teamwork, depending on the purpose. Although the definition is straightforward, the concept of collaboration itself is a broad one, made up of multiple dimensions and behaviours. For example, collaboration can include team support (i.e., how do we support our teammates), information sharing (i.e., the willingness to share knowledge and tactics) and learning from each other (i.e., taking in and adjusting behaviour to feedback).
We have been learning how to collaborate with others since school time. But we will always have room to improve it. By providing a broad conceptual framework of collaboration, we have many ways to improve our collaborative skills.
Listen before you speak.
Taking a moment and consciously listening to what others are saying helps us to clearly understand what they are trying to convey. In that way, we are able to be respectful, considerate, and be more open to discovering other perspectives.
You may have a fabulous idea in your mind, but others might also have an excellent plan for the common tasks. Give your teammates a chance to speak up and also give yourself a moment to digest the information. It will reduce the time for potential misunderstanding and make your teammate feel that their opinion is valuable.
Train your tolerance, for others and yourself.
Especially nowadays, teams tend to be diverse and include people from different backgrounds. Different cultures have different ways of doing things, which might lead to the collision of different perspectives. With sufficient tolerance, we can turn the difference into a well-blended fusion of viewpoints.
On the other hand, we might also train our tolerance for mistakes, for the sake of others and ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes. While the textbooks told us all the theories and the (correct) ways to do things, we all learn about things more in-depth when we start to practice them. It means that even when we are well-prepared, we might still need to make some mistakes before we get on the right track. We should treat making mistakes as a crucial part of learning. In that way, we would have more tolerance for mistakes, no matter if they have been made by others or ourselves.
How exactly can we train our tolerance?
Remember the first time you tried to bike? You might have been afraid that you would fall. But how about the 2nd and 3rd time, how did you feel? All skills come with multiple exposures to specific situations, the same goes for tolerance. Involving yourself in different kinds of conversations and experiences helps you to get used to differences in ideas and opinions.
Have you ever had a really bad day, hoping others could relate and give you some comfort? This is a sign of a craving for empathy from someone. Life does not always go as we wish. Hence, if somebody on your team is acting annoyingly out of the blue, take a deep breath, and try to put yourself in their shoes. They might be experiencing things that you can't even imagine. If everyone has a little bit more empathy towards each other, conflict may be resolved much faster.
Navigate the knowledge gap and be open to sharing knowledge.
Every individual is unique and special because we all have different career- or life trajectories. Each turning point generates extraordinary, individual repertoires for tactics, coping strategies and knowledge. Can you imagine how variable that is when a group of people gather around, to combine all these repertoires, just for completing a task? Combining tactics, coping mechanisms, and knowledge is the fundamental purpose of collaboration. The problem arises here: to what extent people are willing to share their knowledge.
One of the keys to enhancing collaboration is to ensure the fluency of information in a team. Hence, we need to know that as individuals, we have different types of knowledge and know-how that we can share with others. In exchange, we will also learn new strategies from our colleagues to advance our strategy “toolbox” along the collaboration process. The higher the ease of information exchange, the higher the effectiveness of communication, ultimately leading to higher task performance.
Embrace feedback and treat it as a tool to help you succeed.
As a team, we usually have a common goal that we want to achieve. Feedback represents an opportunity for improvement if we treat it as help to shape our own and others’ performance, rather than a critical or negative comment. More specifically, in-group feedback should be treated as a continuous learning path for group growth. When everyone in the group agrees on this, a collaborative environment can be created, ultimately enabling all team members to enjoy higher team performance and satisfaction (Gonzalez-Mulé et al, 2014).
measured by the Bird Spotting game
In general, people strive to maximize their performance in terms of accuracy and speed. Because of limited cognitive capacities, we sometimes cannot have it both ways. As a result, we might need to sacrifice some speed to increase accuracy in certain situations, while making faster and (inadvertently) less accurate decisions in others. A specific term for this trade is “Speed-Accuracy Tradeoff”.
As an example, have you ever tried to slow down your movement just to make sure that the USB goes perfectly into the port? In this situation, you choose accuracy rather than speed because you know if you weren’t successful the first time, you might end up having two more attempts to make sure your USB goes into the port.
A situation that might require a different approach could arise when playing sports for example. Have you ever been in a basketball game where you were passed the ball while standing in a good position? In this situation, you may want to choose speed over accuracy because you know that if you don't shoot the ball immediately, it might be intercepted by the opponent and you miss a good chance to score.
Have you found yourself as a speed-inclined or an accuracy-inclined person in the Bird Spotting game? Let’s take a look at some tips that can help you improve your skills in both and find a good balance between them.
Improving Productivity/Speed (If you’re an accuracy-inclined person)
Break down tasks into smaller pieces & trust the small increment.
While we’re assigned to big projects, we might often have too much information to digest, leading to a decrease in productivity. One way to improve our productivity is to tear apart that giant chunk of a project and make lots of small, achievable goals. Creating a timeline for when to tackle each subgoal can provide you with smaller time frames that are still sufficient for achieving overall accuracy in the project. Breaking up a large project into smaller sub-components will lower the threshold for starting them and provide small accomplishments throughout the process for extra motivation.
Commit to deadlines and be accountable.
After making well-planned timelines, the next step would be to commit to the deadlines that you set. If you find it difficult to hit deadlines generally, you could always ask for help from your co-worker. For example, you can arrange weekly check-ins with your team members and announce your deadlines to them. Creating dependencies may help you become more alert and get the job done in time.
Set up time blocks: to focus and limit distractions.
Recovering from an interruption at work can take up quite some time if we want to make sure we really get our focus back. To avoid interruptions, set yourself a focus block (e.g., it could be 60 minutes or 90 minutes) and also make sure to let others know about that. Like this, your colleagues can find other times to approach you if there’s no emergency request. You can also dedicate each focus block to one of the smaller goals you set during step 1. This can help you track your progress, get small tasks done and still remain detail-oriented.
Forget about perfection.
Last but not least, we need to change our mindset about being perfect all the time. Let’s face it, nobody is. What you can do is frequently refine your work within the deadlines that you set. When planning timelines initially, don't forget to leave some room for final refinement. Try to stick to the small deadlines you set in your timeline instead of focusing on overall perfection. If something is not yet fully up to your expectation, you may come back to it in the time you set yourself for refinement, but focus on making the deadline first. After practising this for a while, you may find yourself less concerned about perfection all the time and have a better feeling on how to distribute your time within a project.
Improving Quality/Accuracy (If you’re a speed-inclined person)
Practice breathing & meditation
If you’re a speed-inclined person, you have the tendency to rush your tasks to achieve fast outcomes. A deep breath before you start your next task can help you to focus on the present moment (and focus on the details), rather than the outcome. Breathe in for 6 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and repeat this 6 times. This helps you reset your mind and just focus on the current moment.
Practising meditation regularly also helps to calm your mind down, reduce stress, and process information clearly. Eventually, it can lead to an increase in your attention to detail and level of accuracy when doing your tasks.
Do not multitask.
To ensure the quality of each task, you should avoid multitasking. It is a trendy myth that multitasking is essential to improve productivity in the workplace, or even possible. It is quite the opposite actually. Trying to work on several tasks at once increases the probability of making mistakes and leads to less accurate decision-making. What you can do is take a step back and figure out which task is more important, then contribute your attention entirely to one task at a time. One useful method to determine the priorities of your task could be the Eisenhower Matrix, developed by former US President Dwight Eisenhower.
Tasks with clear deadlines and significant consequences if not completed in time.
Tasks without clear deadlines but are helpful to the ultimate goal.
Tasks need to be done but don't necessarily need your expertise to have it done.
Tasks that consume your attention but do not add any measurable value to your desired outcomes.
Keep your brain active.
It’s all about practice. If you wish to improve quality, you need to pay attention to the details within your tasks. Increasing focus on a task also reduces the tendency of making mistakes. You can help yourself function at your maximum cognitive ability by keeping your mind active. One of the keys is to engage in activities that can engage your focus. For instance, playing logic games like Sudoku, Rubik’s Cubes, and Chess can help you push your cognitive capacity to its limit; while puzzles and memory games (e.g., “Where is Waldo?”) help you to sharpen your focus on tasks and act in a more detail-oriented way. By practising this, you might find it easier to stay focused on the small details of your tasks rather than rushing.
Get organised, prepare a paper and pen aside your laptop.
Since cognitive abilities are limited in capacity, it helps to eliminate unwanted distractions. A tip is to always have paper and a pen alongside your laptop and write down the upcoming tasks that spontaneously come into your mind. Explicitly noting down the distracting tasks can temporarily stop them from occupying space in your mind so that you can focus on one task at a time. Next to that, a messy table could also increase your anxiety and stress towards uncompleted tasks. Eliminating the (unnecessarily) stacked documents from your workplace could also help you stay focused on your tasks.
measured by the fish game
Working memory (WM) refers to the temporary storage and manipulation of information in our mind, which is essential for general cognitive functioning such as reading, language comprehension, reasoning and learning (Baddeley, 1983; 1992). In simpler words, it describes our capability to hold information in mind and use it to help us tackle the complex tasks at hand.
For example, thanks to working memory, we are able to prepare the ingredients that we need for mom’s recipe while listening to her telling us a story about her herb garden.
When we are required to learn something new, working memory capacity is one of the most important factors. It determines how efficient we can be at achieving certain learning goals in a specific timeframe. The more relevant information we can hold in our mind and connect to previous experiences and memories, the more easily we can encode them into our long-term memory system, and thus the more efficiently we can learn new things.
Although there’s still a debate on whether working memory capacity can be improved, there are a few suggested ways worth trying to enhance our working memory:
Use suitable memory strategies that fit your learning style
Given the limited space available for processing, storing and retrieving information in our mind, how the information is presented in our mind becomes a crucial element for the efficiency of learning. There are plenty of memory strategies available out there (e.g., rehearsal, mnemonics, acronyms etc.) and they serve as combining all the information and presenting them in a minimized way in our mind. Here, we provide two examples of memory strategies which might help you with processing complex information.
Imagine that you need to remember the total monetary value of your customer's house, which is valued at the price of €567340. Instead of identifying the digits one by one, it will be easier for your brain to digest if you split up the digits and chunk them into groups, such as “567” and “340”. In this way, the number €567340 will be processed as 2 items (“567” & “340”) in your mind instead of 6 items (“5”, ”6”, ”7”, ”3”, ”4” & ”0”).
The same mechanism applies when you try to remember a new technical word. For instance, processing “user”, “in”, “ter”, and”face” is more productive compared to ”u”, ”s”, ”e”, ”r”, “i”, “n”, “t”, “e”, “r”, “f”, “a”, “c”, “e”.
Using this technique, we will be able to handle more complex information with our limited working memory capacity by dividing them into manageable chunks.
Imagine you have to remember a series of instructions from your mom over a phone call: After you reached home, turn on the rice cooker, organize your messy room, put all the dirty clothes into the laundry machine, turn on the laundry machine, feed the cat, return the food container to the neighbour, water the plants and throw out the trash.
Sounds difficult? Don't panic, it will be easier to remember all these by visualizing all these instructions. See the picture below.
Rather than remembering those extremely lengthy instructions, now you just have to visualize the path you're gonna work on those chores and process only one picture in your working memory. Then, you will have a bigger chance to complete all the tasks before your mom gets angry :)
Stretch the limits of working memory capacity
Why do we need to do stretching before and after our workout? The answer is pretty obvious, which is to increase the flexibility of our muscles and eventually build up their durability. In a similar vein, if we want to increase our working memory capacity, we need to “workout” our neuroplasticity regularly.
Try some memory training exercises available online, such as N-back-based memory tasks and Cogmed (a well-designed working memory training program). Continuously practising this kind of training with gradually increasing difficulty will sooner or later improve the use of our full working memory capacity in three ways:
First, through memory training, our general working memory workspaces are widened, allowing more pieces of information to be manipulated in our minds at the same time.
Second, the more we practice with working memory tasks, the more we can control what important information stays in our attention and the more irrelevant information is blocked out from our attention.
Last but not least, with more practice we will get familiar with memory strategies that click with us and are suitable for different tasks, thus we can process various information more efficiently.
While memory strategies are more limited to the nature of the information we encounter, this kind of working memory training is not targeted at specific types or domains of information but improves our working memory capacity in general (Brehmer et al., 2012).
Expand your coping repertoire for stress handling
Sometimes it’s not that our working memory capacities are not “large” enough, but they get loaded up with other components that affect our performance. For example, you are not able to be productive with an email inbox full of spam emails. So is our working memory space. We need to make sure that there are only minimal “spam emails” in our working memory space allowing us to use our working memory capacity efficiently.
Without us noticing, both physical and psychological stress could be affecting and occupying our working memory workspace, leading to underperforming in learning something new.
The benefits of exercising regularly are not limited to improving the health of our physical body, but also enhancing the performance of our brain cells, boosting our moods as well as improving sleep, leading to better functioning of our working memory and even long-term memory (Zhidong et al., 2021; Sattari et al., 2019).
Psychological stress exists in our daily lives and also our learning trajectories, especially when we are asked to achieve certain learning goals in given time frames. The thing we need to do is to find room for it and make peace with it. To prevent the stress from loading up our working memory capacity, we are encouraged to expand our mental coping strategies, such as taking a walk during lunch to give a mental break from our work; avoiding multitasking; setting work-life boundaries; reframing our thoughts towards positivity frequently etc.
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Palmer, S. (2008). The PRACTICE model of coaching: Towards a solution-focused approach. Coaching Psychology International, 1(1), 4-8.
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Zhidong, C., Wang, X., Yin, J., Song, D., & Chen, Z. (2021). Effects of physical exercise on working memory in older adults: a systematic and meta-analytic review. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 18, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s11556-021-00272-y