A few weeks back, a regular visitor to our site, Lubna, made some interesting points on Thinking. Let me continue the discussion.
Any of us can think. We are born with that faculty, but that gets dissipated as we are not formally taught how to think. The same appears true for other inborn faculties – all of us know how to run, but those with a coach usually run better than others. All of us breathe, but those who have learnt breathing techniques formally have learnt to get more out of it than just oxygen.
In a similar manner, thinking can run in all directions, and much of it may not result in something useful. So is it possible to teach how to think systematically, so we get the results we want?
Some examples of thinking tools I have found useful:
1. Lateral thinking (Edward de Bono) – encourages thinking up multiple alternatives, not just going into depth on one – and suggests techniques to do it.
2. Six Thinking Hats (again, de Bono) – helps separate emotional responses from objective ones or distinguish inspired thinking from critical thinking. It also leads to parallel thinking (rather than adversarial thinking) where all criticize together or seek opportunities in a new idea together.
3. Nine Windows – helps us think of super-systems and sub-systems, and thus broaden our perspective. For example, if we are designing a pen, it tells us to think of people who will use our pen, the shop that displays our pen, or the crates that will ship our pens (all examples of super-systems). Useful when we need to focus on multiple stakeholder perspectives, or to understand the customer’s customer. Using this tool, we also focus on the system in the past, and how it could be in the future. Focusing on the past helps us understand why things are the way they are.
4. Systems Thinking – leads to realizing that we are part of a larger system, and the complex interrelationships between causes and consequences, Often, cause and effect are far removed in time and space, so learning from consequences does not always come naturally.
5. Ideal Final Result – helps us think on the ideal result we must aim for, and how we can get there.
6. Resources – triggers us to look for unused and probably free resources, to achieve our goals.
7. Personal Mastery – spiritual leaders and management gurus, all teach this. Covey dwells in depth on this, so does Senge.
8. Disruptive Innovation (Christensen) – well researched theories from the Harvard professor explain the success factor of innovative ideas; predicts when a startup will succeed with certain ideas, and when the incumbent is more likely to succeed.
9. Learning from Unusual Sources – a Mindtree initiative, stemming from the belief we can learn from any situation, from anybody, or from any industry. We need to develop the capability to connect experiences in one situation to another scenario where we are looking for answers.
These are just some examples of thinking tools as I have understood them, and I have seen these make a definite impact to my thinking. I agree with Lubna all thinking does not lead to innovation, just as action does not always mean progress. That’s why focus on “right” thinking can lead to right results, and some of it will be innovation. And good techniques can steer our thinking in the “right” direction!