6 02 2013

ThinkIBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920′s to the present.


“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would enable the company to grow and flourish.  He made the compelling case that “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  I understand that some IBM employees—engineers and so forth—would carve out significant blocks of time every day simply to think.

One reason why things tend to overwhelm us is that we may have nurtured the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and then finding a solution by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially resolutions to problems that niggle and irritate.  This applies to any area of life, not simply mechanical malfunctions or engineered designs for everything from highway infrastructure to software apps.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking is the bane of our age and the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

One father I know regularly counsels his adult sons to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call the process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off the technology for a while and have your secretary or your family members hold your calls.
  • Think with a pencil and paper in hand.  Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing something out has a way of clearing cloudy thought.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis and then come up first with every conceivable argument against it.  Then he’d formulate arguments in favor of his proposition.
  • Try to see your conundrum through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this practice.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A consummate “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is laborious but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

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2 responses

28 03 2013
Matt M.

Great post! I do not claim to be a master at thinking things through, but it is clearly evident as the workweek unfolds itself that far too many people use the first solution that presents itself as the final solution. There is something to be said about shooting holes in the answers you present prior to making them known. Thinking…a lost art for sure.

29 03 2013
Christian Fahey

These are great thoughts Matt. Not thinking and not thinking things through exact more pain and waste than is necessary. Thanks for reading!

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