We all have our approaches to problem-solving. Some of us are more inclined to take a big picture view, while others are more comfortable when focused on the nitty-gritty.
I mean, the answer lies in the detail, right?
More and more these days, our world has shown that problems are rarely black and white. And as I reason in The Power of Professional Closeness, that’s exactly why the answer’s usually a shade of gray, too.
Balancing Schools of Thought
I’ve long been a proponent of balance.
Take research, for example. Academics tend toward one of two schools of thought – deductive or inductive reasoning.
- The first, deductive, begins with a hypothesis: “Based on our past performance, our revenue will grow 30% if we hire more salespeople.” From here, they test by doing just that on some scale or another.
- Inductive reasoning starts with observations, drawing conclusions or generalizations from them: “3 out of 4 companies that hire more sales staff increase revenues by 30%. Therefore, if we do the same…”
If you could fund both studies, which would you pick?
And if you could fund both, would you?
In Your Organization
As we’ve seen, both lead to the same conclusion – hiring more sales staff. Both researchers, however, went about it differently. The same applies to our work as people, and as leaders.
Analytical vs. Intuitive Thinking
In business, however, we tend toward either Analytical or Intuitive Thinking to solve an organizational conundrum. Both in our daily work as individuals – and thanks to social dynamics – on a collective or team level.
- Analytical thinking describes our tendencies to focus on details: processes, workflows, past performance, and the like. We learn by understanding where we went wrong – in real life or experiments – then use that to move forward. In a nutshell, we’re often learning from the past, or what’s ‘measurable’.
- Intuitive Thinking is far more unfamiliar to most. Often, we don’t apply it much at all unless we’re consciously trying. With Intuitive Thinking, we look at possibilities rather than facts or data – what could be, what we could make, create, build: essentially, it asks “What if?”
For instance, let’s consider two teams.
Adam’s Aardvarks are baseball legends. Each week, they get together and go over their team’s movements from the last match: Jonno’s strong right arm helped him pitch a home run, Lucy’s slow jog let the team down. They take those learnings and come up with a better strategy for the next game.
Ida’s Iguanas – Adam’s rivals – like to think about other stuff. What Adam’s team might be planning for next Saturday, for example, or new surprise moves to catch the Aardvarks off guard. Ida’s Iguanas don’t really look at how they did last game or even last season, because the future’s about possibilities, right?
Yes – you’ve probably guessed it, the Aardvarks are mostly Analytical thinkers; the Iguanas are Intuitive Thinking-oriented. Can you see how both have different strengths? And face different potential shortcomings?
In business, we tend toward either Analytical or Intuitive Thinking to solve an organizational conundrum. Both in our daily work as individuals – and thanks to social dynamics – on a collective or team level.
Now imagine you had both capabilities. And with practice, the flexibility to switch between them. If all this seems a little familiar, it’s because it is. Elsewhere in our TTGG blog, I’ve described Exploration and Exploration – and how organizations need both to survive, compete, and thrive.
Here, I’ve simply taken those higher-level concepts and tried making them more tactical so that you can try them on for size, yourself. With both in the bag, my experience is that most leaders make more informed decisions, by thinking both exploratively and in terms of what’s worked.
Which do you tend toward?
Over To You
Whenever I’m working closely with a management team, I like to help them reimagine how they solve problems. More specifically, I like to get them tackling a current company challenge by combining the two seemingly counter approaches – Analytical and Intuitive Thinking.
If you’re not yet ready to take on a full-blown organizational challenge just yet, then let me pose a thought experiment, instead. When a small conundrum arises in your daily work, I’d like you to hit pause.
Stop, take a moment. Instead of trying to rush straight for a solution, why not mentally distance yourself. Reflect on your cognitive processes – are you taking an analytical approach? Or is your tendency more holistic? How can you add a little more of the other to give yourself even more of an edge?