Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Don't Managers Think Deeply

Today, the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge Newsletter and Art Petty On Management had complementary articles on Why Don't Managers Think Deeply? It's a fascinating topic that should concern all leaders. Both are worth reading, and, dare I say, thinking about.

I'd like to add some of my own opinions about why manager's don't think deeply:
  • People confuse form with substance: Brilliant presentations, PowerPoint's, or "hot programs" may be attractive and create a lot of interest, but many have no depth beyond the bullet point on the chart. People haven't really thought about what the strategy and the most effective means of execution. People don't get into deep discussions about the issues or alternatives.
  • Activity trumps results and effectiveness: We. particularly American business professionals, have a bias to activity. We see nothing wrong with Ready, Fire, Aim. The activity is often unfocused, aimless, and ineffective. We are often to busy with our activities to take the time to think.
  • Activity can be mistaken for accountability: "Busy people must be doing important things and producing good results." In reality, busy people may be busy people, but "busyness" does not necessarily mean a lot is being accomplished. The greatest sin made in the name of "busyness" is multitasking--we simultaneously sit in a meeting, process our emails, text message on our phones, and think about what we want to do on the weekend. This keeps us from focusing on what we must do.
  • Thinking---at least results focused thinking-- forces us to make choices. It forces us to commit to a course of action and to execute it. Many people are afraid to commit to a course of action. It is better to react or do nothing than it is to commit to something and to be held accountable.
  • Thinking deeply is messy hard work. It is difficult to reduce it to a bullet point. It is demanding and takes time---but time spent thinking doesn't look like activity. The results aren't pretty and can sometimes be complicated to present and get others to support.
  • Thinking deeply requires the ability to integrate and synthesize. Some people just aren't good at this--but it is critical for leaders.
  • Thinking deeply isn't rewarded in a lot of organizations. It's hard to measure, consequently hard to reward. Thinking takes away from "busyness." it's easier to measure and reward activities.
  • Thinking deeply may be threatening to senior executives. Senior executives who don't take the time or have difficulty thinking deeply about issues will, justifiably, feel threatened by subordinates that take the time to think before acting.

And I could go on, but enough for now. I would be remiss though, if I didn't look at some of the downsides of thinking deeply. I have encountered people in business who are deep thinkers, yet who cannot translate the results of their thinking into meaningful action.

Deep thinking must be accompanied my meaningful---thoughtful action. Without this it is never tested and the results are never produced.

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