Are you Do–>Think or Think–>Do?

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The ability to understand the unique ways people think, act and learn allows us to be more effective in our work and personal lives. As I consult, one of my favorite filters to help me do this is determining whether people demonstrate a preference for thoughtfulness or for action. I have dubbed this the ‘do–>think or think –>do’ test.
This concept was developed while listening to a presentation by Robert Moran (Brunswick Group or @robertpmoran). As he discussed an organizations strategy, he used think/do or do/think to define the two strategic options of the company. I have borrowed and extended this principle as it also applies to human and organizational behavior.
Think of some of the people that you interact with regularly (including yourself!) and ask yourself which one of these two categories fits best:
1. Do–>Think: These people are action oriented and like to get their hands dirty. They get to it and are comfortable working with an imperfect plan. Once things are underway or completed, they assess what they have learned and how to improve it.
Example: As I taught a board game game to a group of people this weekend, Ryan interrupted me two minutes into the rules and asked, “can we just begin playing and learn it as we go?” He demonstrated a strong do–>think tendency.
2. Think –>Do: These people prefer to begin by thoughtfully considering what needs to be done. They consider options, line up their priorities and then systematically work their way through them. They are not afraid of action, they just want to spend time on the best ones.
Example: I am teaching some on-line Master’s level courses this fall. The think–>do students in my class are sending me emails in the first week asking for clarification on paper requirements (and also sending in a draft for review prior to submitting the final paper).
We fluctuate between both of these modes of operation each day. Certain circumstances lend themselves more naturally to each of these styles. For example, contrast the difference between the development of a five-year strategic plan versus assembling your child’s new toy. Or perhaps at the height of your busy work season you may not have time to think/do. Sometimes circumstances will dictate our preferred method.
However, I believe that each of us also has an innate bias. I need to tackle large problems with time to think and ponder. In contrast, some industries move so quickly that they often need to be more do/think (think of technology and apps). This filter has helped me understand that I need to shift my preferred style at times in order to work more effectively with the do–>think people or to get work done on a tight timeline.
Here are some ways to apply this principle:
  • Assess the members of your team and identify their tendency.
  • Discuss this model with them and ask them to identify their own tendency? Is it the same as your observation?
  • Identify the person you often conflict with at work. Could your conflict stem from a different do–>think or think–>do orientation?
  • Review whether you identify the style which is different than your own as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’?
  • Determine how having different styles will help you and your team.

There is no single filter that helps you understand a person perfectly. However, the do–>think or think–>do is one tool which is easy to use and often provides you with quick insights about how to best work with a person.


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  1. monocleproject

    Do you think that one of these preferred methods has an overall stronghold on the other? Understanding that every situation is different, and circumstantially one may be better then the other. But, in the grand scheme of our lives is there a notion that one holds more weight then the other? I can see that both have there downfalls; “think-do” can be a hinderance in performance–whether it be in duration of time or failure to act–While, “do-think” can result in premature action. So, considering the pros and cons of both, do you think one grows us more as individuals more than the other? Or should we have an equal balance of both?

  2. Jeff Suderman

    Great comments MonacleProject! My first response is that awareness is key. There are too many situations where each of these styles discusses an issue and treat it as a tug of war. One says that we need to do/think and the other argues we must think/do. Both styles are valuable but if we are blind to one of the styles, we will often create unnecessary conflict. Second, as you note, the application of this principle is situational and requires us to be able to discern the best option (or balance) within our time restraints. Failure to do this is like the problem of a four-year old with his first hammer – everything seems like a nail! Whatever our bias, it is not always the best option.

    To me, this model presents two ways to do things. In and of themselves, neither is better. It is only in the context of self-awareness and the situational application that they become effective or ineffective.

  3. Pingback: Live|Die|Repeat: Thinking Like Gen Y/Z | Jeff Suderman

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