Thinking vs. Doing

June 23, 2019

Thinking vs. Doing

From 2007-2008, my husband and I planned our wedding – we were both strapped for time and money as I was in business school and he was in his residency program.  After a couple of weeks of planning, I noticed a ‘cycle’ as we evaluated the many decisions that go into planning a wedding:

  • Him:  “Find a DJ…the cheapest one possible that will be responsible and actually show up”
  • Me: “OK!  I called 10 people, negotiated, found the cheapest one and booked them.”
  • Him:  [long pause and sad tone] “Man, there goes my dream of having a live jazz band at our wedding.”

With my mouth agape each time this happened [for flowers, venue, officiant, catering, etc], I started to realize that we were falling into 2 classic types of personas:  Doers and Thinkers. As the doer, I was eager to receive my marching orders, do tons of research (and haggling), land on something and check off that task.  As the thinker, my husband would think of one idea…and another…and another. He dreamed big and instead of choosing between A and B, he’d come up with X, Y and Z ideas.

Of course, you need BOTH doing and thinking.  As a wise Japanese proverb stated: Thinking without doing is a daydream.  Doing without thinking is a nightmare.

[And, our wedding ended being awesome – because of both of our inputs as doer and thinker.]

I reflect on this example frequently in my professional life – As a goal-setting consultant, I’m able to push my “doer” side to help mission-driven organizations create strategies while embracing the discomfort of the “thinker” side to immerse myself in their worlds and create a shared, ambitious vision of how they want to make an impact  

As people, we are simply not one thing or another; this goes for thinking and doing. Although we may trend toward one or another, we often times encompass both. In fact, in order to be successful in personal and professional lives, we need to harness the thinking and doing sides of ourselves. 

To better understand how these aspects balance each other, let’s find out more about each.

  1. Thinkers…
    1. Pros: The thinker has an open mind. The thinker is clever as can be and curious, with a head full of wonderful ideas that can be considered both unique and original. The thinker is smart enough to think outside the box, and analyze surroundings with a strong attention to detail. The thinker tends to be good with money.
    2. Cons: Some thinkers don’t have any guts to take a risk. They may have incredible ideas, but come up with excuses as to why they haven’t put those concepts into action yet. Due to the thinkers’ attention to fine detail, they are unable to simply focus on the bigger picture and get the idea off the ground.
  2. Doers…
    1. Pros: The doer is brave, tough, persistent, hard to intimidate, hard working, and generally happier than the thinker.  The doer more “big picture” oriented and doesn’t get lost in details.
    2. Cons: If you asked a doer to jump off a cliff after a friend, the doer would gladly oblige without giving thought to any negative effects of drowning or being eaten by a strange nautical animal.  Because of a doers’ big picture orientation, they may miss incredibly important details.

In order to really successful, you need the mind of the thinker, but the guts of a doer. You need to have those great clever ideas and a strategy to back it up. You need the drive and determination to get to that goal. You need to be persistent and tough, as well as think through the path you need to take before you dive in.

So what do I do with this knowledge?  

Knowing yourself and your tendencies is important, but it’s not enough. You can use this knowledge to better understand others – at home, at work, at school, during volunteer commitments – so that you’re more likely to collaborate effectively and achieve better outcomes.

Example 1:

I coached a CEO (a classic doer) who often complained about her chief financial officer and his inability to get anything done.  After meeting with him, I immediately identified that he was a classic thinker, and he felt that it was his responsibility to extensively research and propose multiple paths for every single problem that the CEO assigned him.  After they understood each others’ tendencies, the CEO was able to focus him on ‘urgent projects: minimal research, must meet deadlines to execute’ vs. ‘less urgent programs: research 2-3 options for discussion.’ This approach allowed the CEO to meet important deadlines and also allowed the CFO to flourish within his own thinking-based strengths.

Example 2:

When I reflect upon the best team experiences I have, it’s when my doer side is complemented by thinkers.  At my time at Unilever, I was managing 10+ projects simultaneously and would hold weekly planning meetings with amazing experts in packaging, legal, R&D, supply chain, finance, graphics, etc.  I relied on these cross-functional leaders to know the details and help me make informed decisions; in turn, they relied on me to identify the most important projects and must-hit deadlines each week.

It’s important to know yourself, then understand others in order to make an increased impact on your team, family, profession and global community. How can you recognize your tendencies on doing vs. thinking, and apply that same generosity to your teammates in order to work better together?

In our next 2 posts, we’ll dive deeper into harnessing your thinking side and your doing side.  I’d love to hear your comments and questions on anything you found relatable in this post!

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