What is “the Thinking Organization?”

All organizations think. They make decisions, learn and focus.

However, I use the term “thinking organizations” to refer to organizations with a conscious and systematic awareness of the thinking process as distinct from the more widespread appreciation of the end products. Id est, most companies readily acknowledge the importance of good decisions, but fewer examine the process of coming up with good decisions beyond “hiring smart people.”

Two important characteristics of the thinking organization are a focus on results and a preference for hypotheses over conclusions.

A focus on results removes the “good” and “bad” from thinking and replaces them with an emphasis on effectiveness. Id est, most of us would probably agree that thinking about eliminating childhood malnutrition is morally superior to thinking about how to get someone to buy cologne. However, the purpose of the cologne maker is not to create world peace, but to sell cologne. So the lens through which it looks at its thinking should be the effectiveness with which it results in cologne sales. There are of course ethical, legal and other subjective factors in the thinking landscape which need to be considered, but in the context of achieving results.

A culture that speaks in the language of hypotheses broadens its thinking because foregone conclusions and assumptions become interesting ideas. The sentiment that “it’s obvious this is the best way to deal with this kind of customer” is recast into “I think this way of approaching this kind of customer will yield better results than this other way” and subject to critical thinking and a process to gather evidence to support or reject the hypothesis.

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