Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thoughts on Thinking

Every time I rolled with Kevin in jiu jitsu, he tried to give me a chance, but I ended up getting choked out anyway. My jiu jitsu buddy's first words to me were, "you're a thinker, I can tell," after choking me out. It's true, am a thinker.  I like to know things, I like to know how things fit together, I like to know how to do things well.

Our Hero, back right, survives jiu jitsu

Academia is full of thinkers, but I've been pondering how I'm different than most of my colleagues. Sure I'm a thinker, but I'm a doer too. For me, the purpose of thought is to guide action. Data are there to inform the best course of action. I want to get right to getting it done. I don't like meetings without agendas, I don't like discussions straying into many divergent tangents, I don't see the point of all that talking if it has no immediate result.  So I find myself often in meetings thinking "Yeah, but what are we gonna DO?"

At its worst, my tendency to focus on action can mean overlooking key issues or alienating my colleagues by trying to find an flawed but workable solution or synthesize agreement where there is none. But at its best, it keeps us moving, writes action items at the end of meetings, and makes sure we return to tabled discussions.

As much as I would prefer that everyone think like me, my organization is better off with a diverse set of thinkers. Someone who asks all of the questions, someone who makes sure points are clear, someone who puts crazy ideas out there to stir discussion, someone who takes it all in and has nuanced input later, all different kinds of thinkers. We all get on each other's nerves, I'm sure. I'm working on letting discussions wander if they need to, hearing people talk things out without jumping ahead, while still saying what I need to say in ways that make sense to everyone.

In jiu jitsu I had to learn to think a little less in order to learn more. Sometimes I need to think a little more, or to at least let others think a little more. The goal isn't how we get there, but that we get it done.  My jiu jitsu professor would underline the need to loosen up in order to learn and grow with the Eric B. & Rakim classic "Don't Sweat The Technique."

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