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Thinking versus Doing - What is the Right Mix?



We can all point to times in our life when our mothers said: “think about what you are doing”.  As we move into the business world you might have gotten a comment “will you stop thinking about it and just get it done”.  How much thinking versus doing is required?

In a recent publication by MIT Sloan called The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organisations there was an article which discussed how when organisations get bigger, the executives need to spend more time thinking rather than doing.  But the reason that executives got to the senior position was because they were good at doing.  Where in the business life cycle curve to you shift the percentage of time you “do” versus “think”?  Is there some indication based on the type of role, the size of the organisation, maturity of the individual or some other metric that helps determine the right mix?  If there was a set of analytics or measures that helped determine the right blend, well I can see an interesting consulting methodology.

These types of questions where there are no right answers are always interesting to Google, as it is amazing what you find.  In this case, most of the results were about what good leaders should be thinking about or what they should be doing.   Since the results of the search yield some fascinating articles I thought I would share: -

11 Characteristics of a Global Leader – I personally really liked this list, with my favourite two characteristics being Global Strategic Thinking and Life Long Curiosity.    As someone who has worked in many parts of the world, the ability to think globally is a challenge.  There is a desire to be global but what normally happens is a strategy that works well for region X (generally the USA or EMEA, but not always) and therefore should be good for everyone.  Real global strategic thinkers are very hard to find.

8 Things Truly Outstanding Leaders Do without Thinking – This is a great down to earth article on what great leaders do on a daily basis.  Here are the eight – Praise, Decide, Take Responsibility, Communicate, Take Feedback, Set the Example, Seek Help and Challenge.

5 Strategy Questions Every Leader Should Make Time For – an HBR article (yes I know you have to sign up to get it but.. it is still free) that articulates five questions for senior executives to consider when thinking about their strategy. These questions include “What would an outsider do?” and “Is my organisation consistent with my strategy”? 

And my final favourite article regarding how much time should be spent doing versus thinking comes from baby boomer Duncan Bennett who is making the transition from high-powered senior corporate executive to a portfolio manager doing a bit of consulting, Non-Executive Director and NFP work.  An excellent reflection on making the shift from a focus on doing more thinking.

I hope you enjoy my findings – and I will continue to research the question of: -

What is the right percentage of time I should be doing versus thinking?

Mary Sue Rogers

Posted On : 04-08-16

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