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Have we Forgotten How to Think?

by Sarah Thrift on December 5, 2013

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As I was on a 6 hour drive yesterday, I got thinking about how lucky I was to have to some time to think.

Too often, we are moving from meeting to meeting with insufficient time to think. We become fixed on doing the meeting so we can check the box to say we’ve done the meeting, rather than focusing on elevating the quality of thinking within the meeting.

Which reminds me of a quote by Thomas Edison:

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

Few people see thinking as a value. Nor does it cross their mind that they are not thinking and they could be. For example, according to research by Lisa Bloom, young American women purchase twenty times more tabloid magazines than real newspapers.

It takes time and effort to think. Bill Gates famously took two one-week “Think Weeks” a year, with family, friends and Microsoft employees banned from his retreat. The instantaneous nature of today’s technology has created a pressure to respond fast rather than take time to think first.

And when you get down to really thinking, you often have phases of uncertainty and even active confusion, going down many blind alleys before something more robust and meaningful can emerge. Many people want an immediate – albeit inferior – answer.

Which got me thinking! Against the backdrop of these impediments, what can we do to encourage thinking – in ourselves and others?

Arguably, the most important thing is a mindset oriented toward thinking, encouraging good thinking as a core value and priority. This creates the foundation for:

  1. Making good thinking a habit. Being curious about the world around us and letting the desire to read, learn and reflect grow. Putting time in our calendars specifically to think
  2. Spending time with people who think. Listening. Engaging in discussion with them. Asking them how they push their own thinking
  3. Being willing to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Immersing ourselves in it, enjoying the messiness of it – jumping in like a child into a puddle. And letting the thinking emerge from there

If we become better thinkers, we can also influence and inspire others to do the same. We can speak up for the importance of thinking, create safe, open and stimulating environments for thinking, and see those we work with as genuine thought partners, regardless of hierarchy.

Good thinking does not just happen. We need to start by wanting to think well and then find ways to exercise our thinking muscle. With practice, we will not only enrich our thinking, but our lives and those of others too.

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