21st Century Alchemy: Not all rectangles are squares

I love puzzles. They train me to think logically and predictably: to find an answer without relying on intuition, guess work or memory. And it always put a smile on my face when I solve one, even making me laugh out loud at the simplicity of the solution. Love them or hate them, logic puzzles entertain, and even challenge us, to think outside the box.

Take this one for example: “How can you throw a ball as hard as you can and still have it come back to you, even if it doesn’t bounce off anything?” (There is nothing attached to it, and no-one else catches or throws it back to you.)

Logic can be critical
But puzzles and games aside, real life can be far less entertaining, and when faced with situations that can radically transform the landscape of our professional and personal lives, logic can be critical to achieving the most desirable outcome.

And in those moments, the last thing we want to hear is a ridiculous statement like “Be reasonable” or “Let’s look at this rationally.” You ARE being rational, but the question is, “Are you being logical?”

Applying reason
On an individual level, reason (rational thinking) results from how we make sense of our knowledge base of past experiences and perceptions. We’re being rational when we’re guided by orderly or systematic thinking (reason) and not just emotion (feelings).

On the other hand, when we’re being logical, we think and make decisions based on facts and provable (i.e defendable) processes and perspectives. Maths is considered pure logic because a single, correct solution is found by following logical steps (proof).
For example, “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” In every possible example, this statement is always true, logically.

Not always logical
But real life is slightly different and many of our decisions aren’t logical, even if they are rational. If you love iPhones, you’ll probably not buy an Android. Your rationale (reasoning): “I don’t care what the latest tech review says, iPhones are better.” In short, you can be rational (reasonable) but not logical, but you can’t be logical without being rational.

The same can be said about our career decisions: we’re often rational, but not logical and for a good reason – there’s rarely a single solution or ‘right’ answer, at least not in the long-term. We might think that something is the ‘best’ solution or decision, but it’s usually based more on a feeling than on the facts.

Nevertheless, we can and probably still use a little logic to eliminate ‘noise’ (e.g uncertainty, doubts and fears) and minimise indecision by limiting our choices to options we like, are willing to do, and that will most likely produce our desired outcomes.

By no means final
In closing, remember, not ALL rectangles are squares, even though all squares are rectangles. Put another way, your career determines your job, but your job does not determine your career logically. You might make some poor decisions or mistakes along the way, you may even have regrets, but a negative outcome is by no means

And sometimes, the best decisions, and the best outcomes, don’t have to be logical, just rational.

Questions & Answers

Interview Question
Skills focus: Using examples and experiences in an interview

In April, I delivered a workshop focused on learning and implementing eight distinct communication tools. One of them was called OCP, a succinct (clear, concise, and precise) method to efficiently express yourself, moving from the abstract to the concrete, from opinions, statements and facts to explanations and meanings and finishing with concrete, real-world examples that illustrate your point (use the 5 senses).

Think stoplight! RED: This is what I say. YELLOW: This is what it means. GREEN: This is an example. By using the OCP, you demonstrate that you’ve heard, understood, and answered the question, driving it home with realistic and relatable contextualisation. And the more concrete and meaningful your example, the easier it is for them to connect with what you’re saying.

Workplace Question
I started a new job in January and everything’s great with one exception: the department manager is incredibly negative, constantly picking staff and our work apart, even when we do exactly what he wants. It’s contagious and everyone’s morale is in the dumps, with everyone just going through the motions

It sounds like he’s a chronic critic, a perpetually unsatisfied perfectionist who finds flaws in everything and everyone (including themselves) as described in ‘Working for You Isn’t Working For Me: The Ultimate Guide to Managing Your Boss’ (2009). Turn it around. Since you can’t change or please him, use his criticism constructively and never take it personally, even when it’s personal. Focus on S.M.A.R.T mini-goals and tasks (keep a record), make great work connections outside your department, and find personal support outside your work.