When was the last time you had a truly remarkable meal with friends? I hope you have that experience often. I had dinner last night with three really smart leaders. The food was good and the fellowship was even better. The majority of our conversation revolved around one question: How much time do you spend thinking?
What a great question! As you might imagine, it stimulated a thought-provoking conversation. I enjoyed the dialogue so much I wanted to share some of the ideas that came to mind for me as a result.
There are different levels of thinking. This may be obvious, but it is true nonetheless. It requires one level of thinking to learn the alphabet, another to tie your shoe – this has probably progressed to become a habit if you’re older than 5 years old. It requires a different level of thinking to engage in a conversation or conduct a meeting; another level to articulate new ideas; another level to solve a routine problem – like finding an alternate route when you encounter a road closed sign; and yet another level when faced with a unique problem, opportunity or challenge. Some might call this deep thinking. Here’s a quick summary of these different levels:
Type of Thinking Outcome Investment/Time
Learning Knowledge or Skill Varies with Content
Habitual Task Completed Minimal
Elementary Functionality Limited - Moderate
Creative Options Moderate
Problem Solving Actions Moderate - Significant
Deep Insight or Discovery Significant
Leaders are paid, first and foremost, to think. How do you add the most value as a leader? Leaders are not generally paid for the work of our hands as much as we’re paid for the work of our head. We are charged with thinking about: the future of our business and our industry; how to create a preferred future; the goals we’ll pursue; the strategies for achieving our goals; how to improve results; the competitive landscape; new technologies and their implications for our organization; how to manage and lift employee engagement; how to create strong and vibrant cultures; how to foster risk taking; how to prepare future leaders; how to combat complacency; how to overcome success; how to fuel continuous improvement; and on and on and on. The list of things we should be thinking about is virtually endless. Thinking is the cornerstone of our role.
The key to deep thinking is your calendar. Yes, from time to time, we’ll all have thoughts in the shower, or while driving to work, or during our morning run. However, the likelihood we’ll successfully tackle the big issues and opportunities in our world increases greatly if we invest time in deep thinking. My friend Bobb Biehl challenged me years ago to start a “Deep Thinking” file to collect items and issues, which demand the rigor only time on task can provide. Then, Bobb suggests scheduling extended blocks of time to focus on the issues individually. Many leaders spend too much time working in the business vs. working on the business. The escape route from this dilemma is to schedule time to think deeply.
My personal conclusion from the evening: I don’t invest enough time thinking deeply about the issues, opportunities and challenges of our business and our world. How about you?
I’ve attempted to distill an hour of conversation into a few hundred words. Honestly, it feels like I just hydroplaned across some very deep water. Here’s my commitment to you – I’m going to think more about thinking. If I discover anything worth sharing, I’ll pass it on.
How much time do you spend in deep thought? Consider keeping a time log for 2 weeks (in 15 minute increments). Then, decide what adjustments, if any, you need to make.