We’d all like to believe we think in the most effective way, but the truth is we all take shortcuts, make assumptions and generally do what we can to avoid thinking about things in too much detail. But when it comes to product design, problem solving and a myriad of other tasks, being able to think clearly and logically is essential. We consider some of the different approaches that encourage us to think about thinking, and help us perform better.

It’s not often that we stop to think about our thinking; it happens so naturally that sometimes if you actually try to think about it, the process becomes impaired. Just as becoming aware of your breathing can induce uncomfortable breathing patterns, thinking about thinking can actually result in more mental chaos in some cases. However it is also true that being mindful of our breathing can help focus us and reduce the impact of distractions, and similarly, thinking about thinking can also help to improve the process and refine the outcomes if done in a structured way.

For many of us, because the way we think is so automatic, it can become very easy to become trapped in non-helpful ways of thinking, and this can present problems within the work context, especially when trying to solve problems that are challenging and complex. This is why it is often beneficial to consider other approaches; to help unleash new ideas and solutions that weren’t easily identifiable before. But how does one break the habit of a lifetime and start thinking differently? Even if you know that is exactly what you need to do to overcome a particular challenge, it is not easy to do, simply because the human brain is wired to take shortcuts, and in short, trying to think differently is hard work, and the brain tends to avoid this where it can.

Fortunately, there are people out there who have already done the work to uncover different approaches to thinking about a problem, and have recorded some of the different options. Some of the methods share certain characteristics, and most share the fundamental focus of re-framing a problem in a new way.

Some examples of formalised thinking processes:

Six Hat Thinking

Creative Problem Solving Design Thinking

Force-field Analysis

Dialectic Thinking

Lateral Thinking

Systems Thinking

There are plenty more than what’s listed above, and new approaches are being developed and refined every day thanks in part, to the growing insights into the mind provided by neuroscience research. Each has their own value when it comes to thinking about thinking, and empowers the user to consider issues from alternative perspectives, use their imagination freely to consider unusual options, and then refine these down to the most plausible and practical. This rigorous process enables individuals and teams to not only feel confident of having explored a significant number of possibilities, but also that the ultimate decision is one that is based on fact and feasibility, rather than on vague assumptions. This is the benefit of utilising a defined and structure thinking methodology in business development activities.

How to choose the right method

Many of the methods were developed as a result of specific challenges faced by their founders in a certain context. As a result several of them are already recommended for certain challenges, design thinking, for example, tends to be used primarily in product design and development; this is the context in which the concept was conceived. Other approaches evolved in business planning and organisational development contexts, and are therefore typically reapplied in similar situations. However, while many of the approaches do have an existing niche in which they are well utilised, this is certainly not to say that they cannot or are not, used elsewhere. In fact utilising a methodology that appears completely irrelevant to a situation can be one of the best ways to expand the thought process around it, and enable truly innovative ideas to emerge.

That being said, with so many options out there, and the need for timely resolutions for many business challenges, few teams will have the luxury of trying them all out before deciding on their favourite. We therefore offer some considerations when looking to identify the most appropriate thinking method for your needs:

Do you have a facilitator trained in that discipline? – many of them require someone with the appropriate knowledge in order to run the session and enable successful outcomes. If you don’t have someone on the team already you may need to consider hiring an external expert.

Timeframe – some of the approaches are ideal for longer term projects, while others work best in facilitating more immediate solutions to be identified. It’s therefore important to consider how quickly you need a resolution and how much time you will have to dedicate to sessions.

Objective – although many of the methods can be applied across sectors, if you do have a specific aim in mind, for example, product design, and you need a swift resolution, it may

be of benefit to begin by using the approaches specifically intended for that purpose. This will be especially true if you are introducing a new thinking technique from scratch.

Who’s available to attend? – a significant number of the methods work best when a diverse range of individuals are able to contribute, and this includes people outside the direct team; junior colleagues, those from other departments, and sometimes even customers. If you are considering a certain approach it may be worthwhile thinking about who will be able to participate, and whether they will be the most appropriate individuals to see successful utilisation of the chosen methodology.

Thinking about thinking in the everyday context

While use of different creative thinking methodologies is highly beneficial to move a major project forward, it’s also important to remember that these approaches are just as valid on a smaller scale. If you have been exposed to a certain approach, then use this in other areas where possible and see if this enhances outcomes on a day to day level. you may find that by employing these skills to solve daily challenges, you begin to see improved outcomes across the wider business; you may decide to embrace these new methods for challenges being faced by yourself, or use your new-found knowledge to facilitate the successful resolution of challenges for your colleagues. Regardless, having a diversity of thinking approaches to pull on throughout the business is a critical component of driving innovation, improving outcomes and empowering success, making it vital for everyone to start thinking about thinking.

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