Doing and thinking are the basic building blocks of all human activity. The correct balance of these two activities helps us achieve our goals. Unfortunately, many organisations struggle to maintain a healthy balance, tilting too far toward action, or too far toward deliberation. Rather than being deliberately engineered, the think-do rhythm in most organisations arises automatically, from the many small decisions we make every day.
The right balance of doing and thinking keeps an organisation adaptive and agile, innovative and entrepreneurial. It gives the people in the organisation a sense of purpose and progress, which helps drive continuous improvement. In short, the right balance of doing and thinking drives learning. It keeps the company relevant and solvent. It keeps employees happy. It leads to happy customers too.
By doing, we mean physical interaction with the world, whether that means driving a forklift or making a presentation to investors. Doing something doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking, but the brain operates much more automatically. For familiar behaviours like deeply ingrained habits—getting dressed or driving home, for example—our brains can go into almost fully automatic mode, wandering freely even as we shave with a razor or drive seventy miles an hour down the motorway. As a result, doing does not tax the mind the way thinking does. Doing is our default mode because it is faster and more efficient, and our brains are nothing if not efficient.
By thinking, we mean the deliberate, curious and open exploration of information, beliefs, stories and assumptions in order to interpret the world around us. In our model, thinking occurs before and after doing. Before an action, the output of thinking is decisions: what are we going to do and what are we going to learn? After an action, the output of thinking is reflection upon what we have learned. In stark contrast with doing, the process of thinking is cognitively taxing and leads to mental fatigue.
The difference between doing and thinking can be described in several ways:
Sometimes we are focused on the redwork, running around with too little reflection. Sometimes we are focused on the bluework overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task before us and finding it hard to move forward…the goal is a deliberate balance of the two.
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