The craft of thinking

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Thinking. We do it all the time. We take decisions, compare and contrast, plan and prioritize, create, invent and what not.

But what do we really know about the way we processes information? What drives our thinking? How much of our thinking is of good quality, and how much of it is foggy, irrational or false? Are we in control of our thinking at all?

Most of us say: “Well, I don’t know how thinking works, it just happens…”. Of course, that’s a natural approach. We are not used to operate our thinking proactively, we take it for granted.

But what if our thinking could be cultivated and worked upon just like a muscle? What if we could train ourselves to become better thinkers and level up our performance?

Well, I believe we can, but it’s not easy. It requires to engage in the kind of work that involves conditions we often find uncomfortable and distressing, such as uncertainty, confusion, and failure.

If it feels so bad, why go there? Because these are the conditions that provide the best workout for our thinking muscle. We’re not really thinking when we execute the same drill for the hundredth time, we don’t make new connections when we do what we set out to do, we don’t make a leap when everything goes according to plan. We’re merely following instructions, defined by others or ourselves.

Seeking discomfort

Not knowing what do to is not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity for us to make huge exponential leaps in our thinking abilities that might serve us for a lifetime.

In my book The Other Ideas: Art, Technology and the Creative Mind, I share habits to provoke these conditions, just like an intensive workout, in order to accelerate our best thinking and reach new ideas.

Let me share an effective and simple habit I often use. We all know it when we are so enthusiastic about a certain idea, that we are convinced it will work without a doubt. This is when we are might be merely executing what we already know that works, not making new connections, not discovering anything new.

In these situations, imagine your initiative has already launched and failed, then analyze what might be the reasons why. This habit doesn’t just help us identify potential problems early on. It also reduces the overconfident attitude we often assume when we are over invested in a project, and brings in uncertainty into our work. This uncertainty forces our brains into intense workout mode and immediately boosts our thinking performance.

Mental workout

About a year ago, I was consulting a company who already had a very successful marketplace app. The project goal was a major redesign for the user experience across the entire app. In one of our final sessions I asked everyone to imagine our project has launched and failed. Then, analyze why this could have happened.

After long tense moments the Head of Product spoke up and suggested that this redesign had “failed” because the registration form was too long, and customers would be unwilling to deal with it. The room became silent, because over the countless meetings we had before, that included experienced managers and talented professionals, no one had even mentioned this aspect.

The participants started asking hard questions one after the other, as a feeling of uncertainty took over our old confidence. This led us to come up with a new user experience concept, that would allow customers to use the product anonymously, while gradually disclosing small pieces of information in the relevant contexts as they go along.

That’s what we ultimately developed and the customer adoption was extraordinary. Customers could jump right in and use the product, while the bits of information they disclosed were being collected into a coherent profile in the background. As a matter of fact, this turned out to be a major innovative aspect which gave a meaningful edge to the entire redesign project.

Think proactively

The main takeaway from this is simple — let’s not take our thinking for granted. We can deliberately invest in our thinking and craft it to be even more sophisticated and effective. In my book The Other Ideas, I share more methods and approaches from my own personal experience.

Whether you are a product manager, marketer, designer, or engineer, and no matter what you are trying to achieve — I can assure you that you will be better off if you are a skilled thinker, and it pays off big-time.


 
 
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Discover the power of uncertainty.

By reading The Other Ideas, you will learn how to harness uncertainty and transform it into creative power to successfully implement your innovation projects.

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Yonatan Levy