I’ve been thinking a fair amount about thinking lately. How much time do I spend doing it? How much time do other people spend doing it? How much of a given day, week, or month should be dedicated to the simple process of reflection and/or thought?
In an era of pushing productivity to the limit, where more is better, and engaging in a constant state of being “over busy” seems to be valued above all else, thinking may be deemed to be a rather unproductive activity … but is it? The assumption is that you need to have a tangible output in order to be productive, as if producing thoughts or ideas isn’t as valuable as producing widgets. On the other hand, we can obviously all recognize the tremendous value of that great idea that allows you to double the number of widgets you produce, or cut in half the amount of time it takes to produce them. So why the ambivalence over setting aside time to think?
In reality, any good leader, anyone in charge of organizational strategy, or anyone responsible for any kind of business development or growth must learn to value and make time for reflection and thought on a regular basis. If they don’t, they might be in trouble when competitors move forward and their business is left behind, or when they miss out on that big opportunity because they were too busy being busy to see it come up. Execution of an effective strategy may indeed be the key to organizational success, but without reflection and thought, how do leaders create strategy? Furthermore, how do they continually reassess to ensure that the strategy remains effective as the external environment continually shifts and changes?
In the following HBR article, Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor of Strategy at the London Business School, cites a number of the most successful business leaders of our time who have understood and promoted the value of thought and taking time to think. He then tackles the five strategic questions he believes you should be using your “think time” to answer on a regular basis. In his own words “strategy, by definition, is about making complex decisions under uncertainty, with substantive, long-term consequences. Therefore, it requires substantial periods of careful, undisturbed reflection and consideration. Don’t just accept the situation and business constellation you have arrived at. Leadership is not just about doing things, it is also about thinking. Make time for it.”
Five or so months since the first cases of COVID-19 began to appear and over two months of stay at home orders and social distancing, we find ourselves entering the next stage of this pandemic.