Three Keys to Unlock Your Thinking

Have you ever thought about thinking? Can you describe what it means to think? Most people find it hard to explain what they are doing when they are thinking, and even the dictionary isn’t as insightful as usual when you look up words like think, thought, and thinking. 

One person who does think about thinking is author and innovation consultant Tim Hurson. 

Tim observed in our recent conversation that so often in life we believe we are thinking when we are actually reacting, mindlessly following, or disengaging. These are unproductive states of mind that tend to lead us into dead-ends, as opposed to productive thought that steers us onto open roads of possibility.

In his book, Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking, Tim wrote, “At its heart productive thinking is about freedom.” Freedom truly is the key to innovating products, or our own lives. 

In Think Better, Hurson details his ThinkX model for effective, productive thinking, based on the Osborn-Parnes creative problem solving model coupled with his own experience working with businesses worldwide. The book has been so popular in the ten years it’s been on the market that McGraw Hill is releasing an updated edition in trade paperback this fall under its “Business Classics” series. 

Tim knows that our brains are like muscles that have to be exercised in certain ways to improve productive thought. Improved thinking leads to more ideas which leads to better ideas which leads to freedom. Here are three of Tim’s latest insights to “think better, more productively, and more creatively.”

  1. Practice disconfirmation.
    In psychology, confirmation bias is the term that means that we selectively remember information that reinforces our predetermined beliefs, often in a self-perpetuating cycle. Tim proposes that we practice disconfirmation to help free us from limiting thought patterns. He says, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world spent a few minutes a day asking, ‘I wonder where I’m wrong?’” Ask yourself this question right now and see if you can come up with a brainstorm of at least 7 possible ideas about your own assumptions that might be incorrect. 
     
  2. Look through the lens of simplicity.
    Complexity and simplicity underlie every problem; the energy resides in the tension between them. Tim likes to tell the story of the classic chess puzzle, the knight’s tour problem. The challenge is to get your knight to land on each square of the chess board only once. In 1823, H.C Warnsdorff came up with a simple heuristic to solve the challenge: Always select the move that has the fewest possible next moves. This was a simple approach to a problem that is too complex algorithmically to be solved by even today’s computers. So, when you’re working on your next challenge, try out the lens of simplicity. Ask yourself, “What might be all of the simplest solutions to this problem?” 
     
  3. Use discernment while suspending judgment. 
    “Don’t judge me!” your teenager might shout with a foot stomp. Judging, in its contemporary usage, can feel reactive. We think of “snap judgments” that are unjust rather than careful analyses. Though they can be used as synonyms, discernment connotes a deeper perception that goes below the surface. Tim believes that we can still be discerning in the process of suspending judgment. The next time you are faced with a decision, practice discernment. Look deeply and, before deciding on a course of action, create a list of positives and negatives about each choice.

Thinking better requires action. It’s when our minds lull into a reactive stupor that we get stuck and unproductive. These three of Tim’s recent thinking exercises can help us train our brains for productive thinking and free us to truly progress. 

For more tips and the research behind the work, check out Think Better. Due to popular demand, Tim is developing an online course, Do It Better, to complement the book. The course will be available this fall.