Do you think the importance of thinking is rated too highly?
The story of IBM’s use of “THINK” as a corporate calling card dates back to the story of Thomas J. Watson in 1911 interrupting an uninspiring sales meeting, saying “The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough. We don’t get paid for working with our feet – we get paid for working with our heads”. Watson then wrote THINK on the easel. Asked later what he meant by the slogan, Watson replied, “By THINK I mean take everything into consideration. I refuse to make the sign more specific. If a man just sees THINK, he’ll find out what I mean. We’re not interested in a logic course.”
“Think” is still used by IBM as a rallying call for its annual conference – and you can still buy ThinkPads”.
The power of THINK was given a hat tip by Steve Jobs who cheekily introduced the Apple Logo “think different” (1997). My point being that “thinking is revered” – even if you insinuate you think “better”.
However, to call someone “academic” is derisory – it accuses them of thinking for thinking’s sake. Even worse, is to stand accused of overthinking – of freezing in the starting blocks – or waiting for the perfect time, when there is an imperative to “get it done”. To be a doer, because the doer gets on with it.
From the delightful illustration of a frustrated and desperate “old school” football coach exhorting a team to “do something” – to smooth advertising campaigns that leverages wry humour (Nike, 1988) – examples of “just do” abound.
People too often find comfort in the convenience of separating thinking and doing. They see that separation as a straightforward and legitimate pursuit. But of course, it’s not. Indeed “probe – lose – adjust” can be simplistic – and dangerous. Like Leunig’s famous cartoon of “facing the future with a child on a stick”, the era when leaders could use “patrols not coming back” as a way of informing their uncertainty should be well gone. But it was only a cycle of CEOs ago that I recall one extolling “just do it” as his personal motto and as his organisation’s cultural logo.
The tendency to separate thinking and doing denies the opportunities of exploring the unity of opposites. You assess to act. You analyse risk to manage it. You think in order to focus on objectives – to hone clarity of purpose. Yes, while making it as simple, straightforward and as nimble as possible, you also recognise the need to make it as complex as is necessary.
Theory informs practice and vice versa. We need not get too much more “philosophical” than that. (For fear of being accused of being academic 😉 )
Learning from errors is a valued component in the culture of organisations.
Structured debriefing improves your capability. Especially, your capability to manage the effect of uncertainty on the achievement of your objectives.
At minimum, it supports nimble adjustments without “losing patrols to the darkness”.