Tips on sharpening your thinking

TED POLLOCK, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT

Regardless of your specific responsibilities, your ability to think-precisely, thoroughly, originally-represents the most valuable contribution you can make to your organization. There are undoubtedly other men and women who can do what you do, perhaps not quite so well, but well enough to get the job done. But no one can duplicate your thought processes. So anything you can do to improve your ability to think is additional success insurance. Some ways to sharpen your thinking:

  • Be precise. Most of us think in words, not pictures. But if the words you use are too general, imprecise or altogether wrong, your thinking will necessarily be sloppy. Suppose you say to yourself, “I can’t depend on my suppliers.” That’s a sweeping statement and may not actually be what you mean. You may really be thinking of one particular supplier and one particular instance of unreliability. But in your haste or anger you generalize. Result: impaired thinking. To think effectively, you must use precise words.
  • Be flexible. Rigidity is just as bad as generalizing. Beware of becoming too orderly in your thought processes. In order to think originally, you must be willing to allow your mind to wander, to strike out on its own, to go off on tangents, to play with various possibilities.
  • Talk it over. Find someone with whom you can exchange views. In effect, you will be thinking out loud, and the opportunity to hear your thoughts sometimes provides new insights. The mere presence of another person tends to make you take a broader look at your approach.
  • Take your time. Nobody ever had a great idea in a hurry. Creative thinking is hard, demanding work. Ideas have to be critically assessed, reconsidered, modified, refined, tested. It’s only human to overrate our own ideas, especially when we are keyed up over a problem. Time permitting, sleep on it, and see if it still looks like a winner in the morning.
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