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Thinking Better, with Tim Hurson December 1, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in Uncategorized, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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Tim Hurson’s Think Better provides a great guide for integrating creative thinking with critical thinking, in order to achieve a state of what Hurson and his firm, Thinkx, call “Productive Thinking”.

We can all stand to think better. Too often, whether in our personal or business lives, we follow the crowd. Often, this leads to known solutions and safe answers, though those often limit our potential upside. To make a sports analogy, this is like the football coach who, when trailing by two touchdowns late in the game, decides to punt: better to risk losing worse, than to give oneself no chance to win. In business, limiting the solutions you can arrive at affords opportunities for competitors to create disruptive products. The bigger a company gets, of course, the easier it is to believe that its processes and systems will produce the “right” answers, and the more risk averse the culture naturally becomes. We need to fight this!

Like Jerry Hirshberg and others, Hurson believes that “To create the future, you have to imagine it.” Besides not deferring to past precedent, we need to embrace the best ideas of design thinking like brainstorming and focusing on finding the critical questions before we worry about the “right” answers. As Hurson sees it, there are two key components to Productive Thinking: Creative Thinking, which is generative, nonjudgmental and expansive; and Critical Thinking, which is analytical, selective and judgmental. His unique perspective is that we need to alternate between the two and actively keep them separate, as performing both at the same time necessarily limits what we can accomplish.

We have discussed brainstorming the entire semester, read articles by some of its biggest proponents, and practiced repeatedly, yet Hurson adds a few complementary elements that I think are really insightful. First, he stresses that the first set of ideas one “brainstorms” are probably not going to suffice. He calls these the first-third, and believes that we must get to the third-third of the ideas before we will be able to see any difference. Second, he suggests using the word “else” to push our limits. What else can we think of? How else can we answer this question? And third, he provides a nifty framework for evaluating which ideas should be pursued. Figure out some of the strongest, he writes, and then analyze which ones satisfy the following requirements: (1) how much influence do I have over the issue? (2) How important is the issue (3) how much imagination will it take to enact (if no imagination needed, there is probably a plug-and-play solution out there . . . find it!).

Hurson has a six-step process for productive thinking: (1) What’s the issue? (2) How do you define success (3) What is the critical question to answer (4) Generate answers! (5) Forge the solution (i.e. make a robust, well-defended solution) (6) Align all fiscal, personal and other resources. Most of this is self-explanatory, but one piece that resonated with me is the idea of creating a “Target Future.” As Hurson writes, “No matter how dysfunctional the present, no matter how sensible the reasons for change, most people and organizations would rather wring out the old than ring in the new . . . The simplest way to create emotional pull is to convert the objective into the subjective, and the easiest way to do that is to create a vision of a Target Future that is so real, so compelling, so desirable that people actually want to reach it.”

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