It Takes Two (Types of Thinking)
By Paul Purdue
The other night, I was having a conversation with my wife, Barb. She’s a retired first grade school teacher. She keeps busy and makes extra cash working part-time in the deli at Cabela’s, a popular sporting goods and outdoor retailer.
Barb told me about her day and how they went from slow to super busy. Two busloads of teenagers came into the store – and they all wanted special sandwiches.
She described the next hour or so as a whirlwind of breads, vegetables and cold cuts - all coming together as beautiful sandwiches. Meals went out, cash came in, and the customers got what they wanted.
It’s a small deli, with just my wife and one other employee on duty. The pressure was on - and Barb stepped up. She moved from station to station to making sure all her guest’s deli needs were met.
When the dust finally settled, and my wife and her coworker caught their breath, the store manager approached them - not the person in charge of the deli, but the General Manager of the store.
He came over specifically to compliment Barb. He saw the way she handled the rush - multitasking efficiently and working through the weeds. He concluded his praise with the rhetorical question:
“You do everything around here, huh?”
Being the big thinker I am, I couldn’t just accept the heart-felt compliment the GM gave my wife. I know he meant it, that wasn’t the issue… Moreover, I was curious:
What is it about my wife that makes her able to ‘do everything?’ How is she able to perform at her best in hectic moments? What makes her do well in times where others would flounder?
I asked Barb if it was part of her job’s responsibilities to perform all of the deli functions during a rush.
She said no, she hasn’t been designated to do these extra jobs.
Next, I inquired if this was part of her training. Had they covered with her what to do during a rush? Was this standard operating procedure?
Again, she said no, she hasn’t been trained to deal with situations like these.
She enjoys her job, and her co-workers, so I asked her if she did this extra work in order to be noticed. Did she work more so she’d receive praise like from her superiors?
And again, my wife said no.
With no speculation left, I just had to ask her outright, “OK, then why do you think you stepped up like that?”
Barb thought about it for a few moments. Then, she simply speculated, “I guess it’s because I can.”
And that straightforward answer showed me the obvious answer I’d been staring at the whole time. When it comes to getting things done and making it happen - Some People Can Just Do That!
It’s the clutch basketball player that scores the game winning three pointer in the last moments of the game. Or Tom Brady in the 4th quarter.
It’s the critical thinkers that get their best thinking done right before the final deadline. Some people do their best work in chaos.
The conversation made me think of Mary Jo, and how she’s like Barb in some ways. Mary Jo is great at tackling problems we haven’t seen before. She is ready to think on her feet and get outside the box. Mary Jo is not afraid to take chances and make mistakes - not if it means finding the best solution.
Not me, I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m a methodical thinker. I ideate infrastructure. I come up with a plan for the future and analyze it from every angle. If you think I can talk, then just imagine the things I’m not saying. In short, I am the planner.
After reflecting on these styles of thinking and problem solving, I realized that how you think isn’t as important as understanding both approaches. In other words, there is a time and place for both styles of thought.
If there’s a new problem at ACS that needs a fast or unorthodox solution, Mary Jo may generate the best idea first. But that doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate long term thinking or plan a system well in advance.
I focus in on the long term / big picture and how we can build the right infrastructure to solve a problem. But when push comes to shove, I can think fast and produce solutions. It may not be my specialty, but I can do it.
The lesson here is to learn and appreciate both sides of fence. Learn how to think in either way.
It’s good to identify what thought pattern resonates with you most. Are you like me - able to create systems, previsualize infrastructure and see the big picture? Or are you more like Barb and Mary Jo - producing answers on the fly and thriving in the most stressful of circumstances?
Figure out your strength. Now, focus in on your weakness. As I’ve said earlier, it’s important you see the value in both ways of thinking. There is a time and a place for both.
How could you improve the way you think and approach a problem?
If you feel like you’re already good at planning, then focus on your reactionary thinking. What’s a problem that your business recently faced where time was a crucial factor? Or, think about a hypothetical disaster scenario for your company - what’s the first thing you would do to solve it?
Do you feel you’re better at jumping in on things as they’re happening? Then, it’s time to exercise your imagination and eye for logistics. Think about a larger problem in your business that immediate action can’t solve. Practice activities that stimulate long term thinking and patience.
Again, the most important thing is knowing the time and place for both ways of thinking. You’ll figure this out if you understand and recognize the value in the side opposite of yours.
By learning from opposite style thinkers, we can enrich our professional and personal lives. Maybe my wife’s fast-on-her-feet nature makes her the perfect counterpart to my big planning and dreams. Or maybe it’s just because she lets me talk so much.
Paul Purdue is a principal at Attorney Computer Systems. He's a self-proclaimed "infrastructure nerd." Check out Paul's growing library of legal technology articles and videos on Attorney Computer Systems' web site.