IBM 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 help the company to grow and flourish. He made a forceful case that the phrase “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars. Many IBM employees—engineers and others—would carve out big chunks of time every day simply to think.
One of the reasons why things tend to stress us out us is the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and solving the problem by thoroughly understanding it. We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially solutions. This applies to any area of life, not just mechanical headaches like a malfunctioning smartphone.
In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking, which he labels simplism, is the plague of our times. And the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!
I know a dad who regularly counseled his adult sons when first entering the real world of work to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action. My wife likes to call this 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 your smartphone for a while and give yourself to the task at hand.
- Think with pencil and paper in hand. Or pen and Moleskine. Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings. Writing things out clarifies your own muddy thinking.
- 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. Then he’d come up with every possible argument against his thesis. Then he’d finish with even more powerful arguments in favor of his position.
- Try seeing your riddle through the eyes of a child. Albert Einstein was famous for this. His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity. A true “outside-the-box” thinker.
Remember that thinking is hard work, 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.
Leonardo’s Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Leonardo da Vinci & H. Anna Suh)