October 7, 2014 ↘︎

How to train your thinking brain.

I am fascinated by how people think. I am intrigued with how differently people can interpret the same situation. How we can read things into emails which were never intended. I’m fascinated by the fact that often there is not a right or a wrong but just a majority….or a lack of  decision making by one party. Freedom of thought is one of the elements of being a planner that I love most.

I’ve worked with a number of people over the years who have been keen to become planners and I get asked “how do you think?” I’m not sure that’s a question I can really answer because everyone has a unique style or approach to how they think which is undefinable. So instead of reflecting on how I think (normally it involves me cleaning my teeth, but that’s another article), I’d like to share with you some ways you can train, stretch and develop your own style of thinking, musing or creating.

4 ways to develop your inner thinker.

1. Think like a politician.

When I wanted to become more focussed on planning, one of my sources of inspiration was the very brilliant Ronnie Duncan from Meerkats. I’m sure I even asked him “how do you think?

Ronnie’s advice was ‘to think about the situation as a politician’. Be able to see a problem or a challenge from many sides, think about all the options and be ready to represent the side which you think is right (have the research to back it up). Be prepared to provoke others, test their thinking and challenge their beliefs, make sure they have considered all the options. This helps you to be more considered and ultimately more definite in your choices.

Some other, less admirable political qualities, we’ll leave alone.

2. Connect the dots.

This great piece of thinking from Ian Fitzpatrick has been shared widely over the last few days. Ian poses a lovely question to consider when you are analysing data,  “I wonder  how ________ is related to _______?”  I love this question within the context of a wider business strategy too.

Never plan in isolation. Always ask yourself how what you are thinking about relates to what else is happening. And, if it doesn’t – how should it? Ideas which connect and contribute towards the bigger picture have a chance of greater long-term success.

3. Live in the moment.

Don’t be afraid to spend time thinking about a situation. Savouring time to reflect and challenge your own mind should be a planner’s ultimate pastime. If you feel rushed to commit to an approach, chances are you won’t be able to develop the idea much further. You need time to look at the problem from every angle and consider everyone involved.

4. Have bucket loads of empathy.

I can’t stress this one enough. Being a planner is not about what you think, it’s about what everyone else thinks.  That’s why tools such as personas, digital profiles and web data are valuable assets. Think about the problem from every one of the target audiences you are being asked to consider. How would they think, feel or behave in this situation? The data is also there to help you from getting carried away with your own storytelling. Be factually relevant.
Having empathy is also critical when you are presenting ideas or facilitating workshops for clients. Be honestly in touch with how your client thinks or feels and the environment that they operate in. Things like this will be critical in helping you learn how to present approaches, and have them endorsed.

As with all things in life, practice makes perfect. Think often. I have been using a set of cards from The School of Life recently. 100 questions are posed to get you to think about a subject a little more deeply. Have a go.

The content and advice contained in this post may be out of date. Last updated on October 7, 2014.
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