As Proust poetically put it: The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Transferring this to a professional context, as a business leader, you have as many eyes as you have team members. Why not mobilize those eyes and empower people to think more deliberately, more productively to create value and generate innovative solutions?
Author Tim Hurson, Think Better, An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking (2008) promotes productive thinking as an approach that will let you look at problems with new eyes and convert them into opportunities. More specifically, Think Better makes the distinction between thinking reproductively and thinking productively.
Thinking reproductively has three levels. The first one is “the unconscious.” It’s what you do when you take a bite out of an apple, for example. The second one is the “intentional” which refers to following standardized procedures, like a surgeon or pilot. The third level is about reproducing with a new feature or enhancement.
Productive thinking is not merely incremental upgrades, but more disruptive, reinventing from the ground up. This next stage of thinking intertwines creative thinking (diverging – where you get all the ideas) with critical thinking (converging – how you analyze them).
Hurson’s six-step model combines creative thinking with a structured approach:
Step 1: What’s Going On?
Explore and truly understand the challenge by taking a deep dive into the current context and the problem(s) to be addressed.
Step 2: What’s Success?
Envision the ideal outcome and establish success criteria based on DRIVE questions:
- Do – What do you want the solution to the problem to do?
- Restrictions – What should the solution not do
- Investment – What’s available to help you, how much can you invest (time and money)
- Values – What values should the solution stand by/respect?
- Essential Outcomes – How will you measure the success of the solution?
Step 3: What’s the Question?
Pinpoint the real problem or opportunity by asking a wide range of questions that if answered can help to solve the problem.
Step 4: Generate Answers.
Brainstorming as many solutions as possible.
Step 5: Forge the Solution.
Decide which solution is best by reviewing ideas in terms of POWER: Positives, Objections, What else-s, Enhancements and Remedies
Step 6: Align Resources.
Create an action plan using EFFECT: Energy, Funds, Free time, Expertise, Conditions, and Things to do
It might seem cumbersome to follow such a structured thinking process, but it is perfectly adapted to the way our brain works when making decisions:
In his iconic book, Thinking Fast and Slow – Intuition or deliberation? Where you can (and can’t) trust your brain (2011), Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman differentiates between two competing and complementary modes of thought that we typically use when thinking and making choices.
System 1 is a fast and emotional decision approach, relies on intuition and instinct with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 is a slow decision approach, relies on conscious deliberation and effortful mental activity.
Kahneman’s research posits that our minds are eager to make quick judgments. But this often leads to mistakes, because we don’t always have enough reliable information to make an accurate call. Our minds readily admit false suggestions and oversimplifications in place of verified data. He cautions against drawing hasty conclusions: When people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound.
Kahneman also warns against the influence of “fake news”: A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.
Tell us about a time when you employed slow thinking or productive thinking and if this yielded a better business outcome.
Are you intrigued and/or circumspect about Hurson’s methodology? What resonates with you and what makes you hesitate?