What do we mean by cognitive preferences? And how do they shape our behaviour and interactions?

A good example of cognitive preferences at work is signing something.

Our signature is unique to us — it is the outcome of years of practice and use, and it is influenced by a number of both cognitive and behavioural variables.

Consider whether we are right-handed or left-handed. Neither of these is better than they other — they are simply an outward expression of how we’re “wired”. From a brain perspective, people who are left handed are right-brain dominant, while right handers are left-brain dominant.

As an adult, when we sign something, we tend to do it on autopilot. We simply sign.

Now imagine I asked you to switch hands and sign with your non-dominant hand. How does that feel?

Most people say it feels awkward. It’s extra work. And for most of us, it doesn’t produce the outcome we think is “right”.

And yet… you can sign your name with your non-dominant hand.

Preferences work in a very similar way. If I asked you to think about where your business will be in five years, some of you will sit back, peer up into the sky, and imagine. And some of you will begin the task of collecting data to analyze and project into the future. Neither of these approaches is more right than the other — they will both get you to a picture of the future state — but these two approaches are also good examples of preferences at work. One more “intuitive”. One more “fact-based”.

Both have their place. Both have upsides and downsides.

We can learn to appreciate and leverage these differences into a much more powerful whole. Just as we can learn to be aware of our own preferences, appreciate those of our team mates, and accommodate — and celebrate! — the differences.