"The power of productive thinking lies in its potential to increase your chances of finding, developing, and ultimately implementing unexpected connections."
Don’t let the title of Tim Hurson’s book scare you away. While Think Better will definitely appeal to people who consider themselves ‘innovators’, the wisdom contained in its pages can be applied by ordinary folks too. In fact, there is so much good stuff packed between the covers I had a hard time choosing only three key takeaways!
Hurson methodically presents a six step process for upping the way you think about the challenges you face – in business and in life. These steps include describing what’s going on, defining success, pinpointing the real problem, generating answers, forging the solution and aligning needed resources for action. Within each step there are a number of sub-steps and approaches that help you dig beyond the obvious, often with a mnemonic to guide you – AIM (advantages, impediments, maybes), DRIVE (do, restrictions, investment, values, essential outcomes), KnoWonder (what do you know? What do you wonder about?) and C5 (cull, cluster, combine, clarify, choose).
Hurson uses real life stories and case examples to illustrate how the productive thinking model works, and there is a generous serving of quotable quotes to delight and inspire you along the way. I actually read this book while on vacation in Panama so you know it is an easy and enjoyable read!
The Big Idea
TTT – Things Take Time
"Productive thinking requires us to not rush to answers but to hang back, to keep asking new questions even when the answers to the old ones seem so clear, so obvious, so right."
Things Take Time. Why is it that we know this to be true and yet time and time again mindlessly rush through things or seize upon perceived shortcuts? Things that are worth doing take time – mastering a skill, preparing an elegant five course meal, painting or sculpting a masterpiece. And yet, we seem unduly swayed by a sense of urgency that is often of our own manufacturing. We schedule a one or two hour meeting to figure out how to increase sales, solve a supply chain bottleneck or reduce production errors. And then we wonder why in a month’s time, we are holding another meeting to try and answer the same question again because our first attempts fell short.
Hurson notes one reason for this self-defeating behaviour is that human beings are uncomfortable with ambiguity. We need to ‘know’, and be seen to know, the answers to questions; we need to eliminate ambiguity in order to regain our sense of equilibrium. This can be attributed in part to brain biology – we are “hardwired to categorize the sensory inputs from the world around us” and generate recognizable patterns. Hurson also observes that our education and employment systems tend to reward people who have answers more than they reward thinkers or questioners. Coming up with the right answer quickly is viewed as a sign of intelligence and is a highly prized skill in today’s competitive environment.
To combat this tendency to rush toward the ‘right’ answer, I think we need to proactively build thinking time into our weekly schedules. We need to ask (and answer) 1001 questions in order to move beyond the obvious and open ourselves up to the wisdom that lies in exploring potentially wrong answers. Let’s try to be curious, absurd, bold, magical.
Let Go So Ideas Can Flow
"Your mind is a treasure box of ideas and inspirations and insights, ricocheting and resounding through your hundred billion neural connections. Sometimes you just have to wait for them to come into view."
I love the idea that my mind is “a treasure box”. The phrase immediately engages my imagination and I visualize myself sorting through the many ideas, insights and memories I have, like a child looking through Mr. Dress-Up’s tickle trunk for the perfect costume. I can sense the delight that comes with finding the pirate’s hat or the princess’s tiara and liken that to the ‘ah-ha’ feeling one gets when disparate thoughts finally meld together and unlock previously unrecognized potential.
We’ve all had those ah-ha moments and I’m willing to bet they often occurred in the most unlikely places – in the shower, washing the dishes, waiting for the bus or shortly after waking up in the morning. We weren’t actively searching for solutions, they simply came into view. At times, finding new connections requires the nudge that comes from a visual cue or a different environment. And sometimes, we need to open the tickle trunk of our imagination and rummage around to find what we need.
Make Time for Play
"Giving ourselves permission to imagine allows us to access a huge resource of cognitive capacity that we often ignore."
Wow – I find it ironically absurd that as adults we have to “give ourselves permission to imagine” when as children our imaginations were constantly in overdrive! How much more invigorating and exciting life was when we imagined ourselves flying to the moon, rounding up cattle on the plains of the mid-west or dancing our way into the National Ballet! Today, many of us find ourselves tied to SMART goals and objectives solidly grounded in the reality of our present circumstances. We may daydream as a way to escape the mundane, however daydreaming is a mere shadow of what the full out power of imagination can be.
Hurson encourages us to create an IF statement; an ‘imagined future’ that is so captivating it untethers us from our practical inclinations and pulls us into the land of possibility. This imagined future doesn’t have to be real or logical or even achievable. It just has to direct our attention toward a different, more fulfilling and ideal future. This reminds me of a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, “Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
I personally don’t think it is an either-or choice. I think we need to answer both types of questions so we can understand why things are the way they are and then imagine how they might be different. Hurson would unleash this creativity with the simple question, “How might I/We…?” and push us to identify 50+ ways to accomplish that imagined future. Yes 50+ ideas. That’s where the magic lies. You’ve got to sort through a lot of hay to find the needle hidden within the haystack. The solutions for many of our persistent challenges is a lot like that needle – hard to find, but pure gold when you put in the effort.
So, here’s my challenge to you. Join me and schedule a block of time in the coming week specifically to get lost in the magical world of your imagination. Think about a current challenge you face or an idea that hasn’t gained much traction. Pretend for the moment that you have a magic wand or a Genie that will grant you anything you wanted. What would your imagined future (IF) look like? What would you choose to make happen? And then, think hard about how you might make it so!
Need some help? Pose your challenge in the comments box below and let other AB readers add to the ideas in your tickle trunk.