There are many different ways of thinking about new opportunities or solving problems. They have become mantras for many and I feel have become devoid of actual meaning. I find that the most productive thinking occurs when use this approach:
- What am I trying to achieve? You don’t always need to achieve something of importance, sometimes you just want to play around or relax. If it seems odd to you that thinking can be enjoyable or relaxing you’re not doing it right!
- What resources do I require? If you are playing or exploring you may not need anything else other than a paper and pen or your computer tablet. Alternatively you may need people with the correct expertise , some research results, access to products, etc. Nothing is more frustrating than getting yourself setup for a thinking session and realize after a few minutes that you haven’t got what you need to make progress.
- How long am I going to spend? Timebox your thinking sessions but be flexible. When things are going well and you’re making progress extend it. Alternatively feel free to cut it short if things are not working. I’ve been in too many problem solving sessions where it is clear that the wrong people are there and/or the problem is so poorly understood that no progress can be made.
- Do I have the right environment? We have all experienced the difference setting makes in results. Make sure you choose the right resources for the environment. I’ve had sessions where the mix of people is not right or the venue I’m in is not set up correctly. It frustrates everyone and wastes time.
There dozens of techniques and hundreds of books on how to gain insights, how to solve problems, and how take advantage of opportunities. Here the major thinking types that I’ve come across:
- Critical thinking
- Lateral thinking
- Creative thinking
- Strategic thinking
- Lean thinking
- Design thinking
- Computational thinking
- Product thinking
Critical, lateral, creative, and strategic thinking have been around a very long time. The Art of War (military strategy) was written 2500 years ago. In the last 100 years the psychological and business research has explored many different tools and techniques in these areas. I call these the base thinking modes.
Lean, Computational, Design, and Product thinking are more recent. They add layers on top of the base thinking modes by focusing on specific features of problems and opportunities. They put useful constraints on thinking processes.
I tried to find a good link for Entrepreneurial thinking but the results were dominated by list of characteristics of entrepreneurs or the ways typical business operations differ from entrepreneurial enterprises. So perhaps this is not a well-defined mode of thinking.
I am not going to advocate any particular way of thinking. Understand each of the ways of thinking and adapt it to your style. We all have innate ways of thinking but we can train ourselves to use other styles. For example it may be natural for you to be a critical thinker but using something like the Six Thinking Hats can help you break out of this. Strategic thinking may not be natural for you but books like Good Strategy, Bad Strategy will help you develop.
If this is all new to you, I would start by understanding Lean thinking since the underlying ideas are required to effectively conduct business now. Design and Product thinking are closely related but come from different points of view. Computational thinking is near and dear to my heart and of course I think everyone should understand the basics. Automation and “Artificial Intelligence” can and will affect the way we live and work, so its key to understand the thinking that underlies it.
Thinking about problems and opportunities is a never ending iterative process. When you come up with solutions to problems, the new solutions with present new problems. If you take advantage of an opportunity or decide not pursue it you will discover new opportunities or insights that will drive further thinking.
So what does all this mean? I believe you should do the following things:
- Create deliberate thinking practice for yourself. I’d suggest 90 minute blocks, 2-3 times a week.
- Have list of problems and opportunities that you work on. Use whatever tool works for you. Keeping track of things you’ve worked on and completed is a great positive reinforcement for your practice.
- Keep written and visual notes, but use what works for you and has the least friction. Hence why I use paper and pen. I use software tools to document my results and not as part of the thinking process. Even though I’ve been working in software for 35 years it is still works better for me to use an old school approach(some research back this up)
- Deliberately try a different thinking approach from time to time. We all have habitual modes that we unconsciously use, so become more flexible by using something different.
- Regularly reflect on your thinking sessions. Look back on the notes, results and things that you’ve added to your list. I would suggest once a week (but not as part of your thinking session) or at the very least once a month. Working on your metacognition aids in the establishment of deliberate practice.
Till next time.