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BLOGInsight: Building a Thinking Organization

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Insight, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Management, Personal DevelopmentTagged as: , , ,

In just about every organization, the focus is on action.  The connotations of words such as goals, objectives, action plans, and status updates are all positive, and are viewed as necessary for organizational, professional, and personal success.   (Even these Tipsheets, over 600 of them, each end with This Week’s Action Plan). 

Yet is the path to achievement exclusively achieved through action?  Or is action necessary, but not necessarily sufficient?

Said another way, if the focus is on action, urgency, and getting things done, is something being lost in the process? Can an organization (or you as an individual) do better with less action, and more of something else? 

Strangely, the answer is yes.  We can spend time thinking – the most underrated activity around.  We typically don’t do it for several reasons: it’s hard.  We are out of practice.  We’re stretched for time.  And there is a bias against it: Thinking looks strangely like “sitting around”… doing nothing.

So what is the case for spending time thinking?  A few of the benefits:

  • Setting direction:  How do we know what we are doing will lead us to where we need to go?  Explicit time on planning ensures that we are taking the most direct, and effective route to our goals.
  • Connecting the dots:  We live and work in a complex world; when we act quickly, we may not consider the implications on existing processes and people.  Thinking time helps us identify these moving parts, and build better alignment.  It also provides an opportunity to incorporate others’ (better) perspectives. 
  • Motivation: The pause of thinking helps answer the questions of why and how, and provides an energizing mental break that makes future action more meaningful – and often, more effective.   
  • Creativity:  Intuitive leaps and creative solutions are only possible when time is allocated to them.    Time opens the gates of possibility.
  • Internalization:  Whether it be a high-level mission statement or a colleague’s new idea, thinking time allows for internalization – the first step in using the information within your own thinking. 
  • Risk reduction:  While most people would not willingly jump off a cliff, sometimes unthinking action is doing precisely that.  Time allows us to both consider any pitfalls, and increase the probability of successful action. 

Yet despite these benefits, many people do not have the time to actually sit and think.  Or are uninspired about scheduling a block of time in their calendar to spend time thinking.  Here’s the good news: there are literally hundreds of inspiring (and practical) ways to spend time thinking.  Here are 11 of them:

  1. Hire a coach: Too many leaders spend time in the business, not on the business. Regular coaching forces thinking time, with the added bonus of external accountability. 
  2. Mentoring:  Helping others helps you process from a different perspective.  Being mentored opens you to different approaches to solving your problems.   
  3. Keeping a journal, or blogging:  Writing is really the process of organizing your thoughts so others can more easily understand.  Regular writing forces regular thinking. 
  4. Teaching: Thinking happens both in the preparation and in the delivery of your content.  The interaction with students also exposes you to different ways of thinking, which is valuable in and of itself.
  5. Public speaking: While the delivery of a speech is certainly important, the vast majority of time is actually spent in the preparation: research, structuring, and writing.  These are all “thinking” activities.
  6. Formal education:  Sadly, most people stop their formal education upon graduation, perhaps under the impression that they have learned all they ever can learn. Attending professional development courses, earning a professional certification, or pursuing part-time graduate studies institutionalizes thinking time, with the double benefit of getting exposed to new ideas and new people.
  7. Go outside the box:  This may mean registering for personal interest courses, reading books outside of your professional sphere (history, science, biographies, etc) or seeking exposure to other cultures or languages.  A new (or different) stimulus will help you look at existing issues in a new way.  
  8. While you exercise: Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, most people have experienced that “big” problems often become less daunting after exercise than before.  While your body is working hard at exercise, your mind is working hard on solving the problems of the day.
  9. Early morning: Schedule time early in the morning, before the bustle of the day.  (Here is a challenge: schedule thinking time from 6-7am each morning for a month – your return on this investment will be more than you can imagine.)
  10. Writing weeks: Schedule an extended time period away to focus on larger, deeper thinking projects.  (This is when I tackle book-writing.)
  11. In transit: Whether it be in public transit, long-distance business travel, or in your car, transit is a gift of time: why not use it to listen to thoughtful podcasts or keep a journal?  (About 50% of these Tipsheets are written on the subway!)

The beauty of thinking is that we are all fully equipped with all of the tools we need: our brain.  It’s just a matter of using it.


Thinking may be hard if you’re out of practice, so schedule a specific time to do it this week, and each week going forward. That’s it.

Marketing Insight #1:  Like our body’s muscular systems, the more the brain is exercised, the better and more efficient it becomes.  If an organization truly wishes to operate at peak efficiency, then it must not just hire smart people, but also require them to think.

Marketing Insight #2:  Notwithstanding the importance of thinking time, the case for action cannot be overstated.  Getting things done is difficult, and thus too many organizations (and people) are paralyzed by inaction.  The best outcome is always when both thinking and action occur together, and when an organization’s culture rewards both.

Does this topic resonate? Reach out to Randall: he can present it to your group.  (More presentation topics)
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