Thinking: The Undiscovered Country

If you are what you think, then you’d better be thinking about thinking.

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The fact that you’re reading this indicates that you are being paid to think. But have you been trained to think? Have any of us? How many of us think skillfully?

I don’t mean knowledge and intelligence, per se: the skills, experience and cognitive capacity we bring to our work. Rather, I’m referring to the mental mechanics of thinking through day-to-day tasks: the repeatable processes of consciously thinking through something.

How expert are you at, say, decision making, problem solving and planning? Do you essentially re-invent the wheel each time you think these through, or do you have a tried and true, step-by-step process to get from your thinking to your goal?

By definition, thinking precedes action. We must first bring into our consciousness an issue against which we bring to bear our thinking. Our thinking then produces thoughts, which become our actions, which become our results.

Have a look at the illustration above. How straight is the line from your thinking to what you want (your goal)? And, how much of your thinking day consists of misspent mental effort?

Imagine if you could focus your thinking, consciously selecting the mental muscles to get to the goal you seek instead of meandering. If you are being paid from the neck up (that would be most of us), there is an enormous opportunity here for efficiency and effectiveness.

And, think about those times that we have tried to modify our behaviour (or actions). If thinking and thoughts precedes actions and behaviour, what if we made the adjustment “upstream” in the realm of conscious or mindful thinking? Instead of treating our behavioural “symptom”, we would change the root cause – “wrong” (or “ineffective”, or “inefficient”, etc.) thinking, resulting in a more profound and longer-lasting impact.

Attributed to the Buddha (and Margaret Thatcher’s father, too) is the maxim “You are what you think”. Thinking and results are linked. So, next time you set yourself a goal, take a moment to think about your thinking. Are you mindfully steering your thinking toward your goal?

To start, try answering the following questions:

  1. How do you make a decision? Do you do so in steps? If so, what are those steps? Are you missing anything?
  2. How often do you use your imagination in executing task? How often do you think about continuous improvement and innovation?
  3. What process do you have for determining the cause of an error or, for that matter, an unexpected benefit?
  4. How do you explain your thinking to your Manager, your Direct Reports and your Peers?

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