Skip to main content

How to Think

| September 11, 2012

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is a recent reflection from Jim Phelps, ITLP alumnus and Senior IT Architect at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  His thoughts do cause one to pause as we have (or really take) so little time to think that we have forgotten how.

You have to imagine the space first.  The space is a conference room in a new building on campus on the 9th floor.  There are tall windows that look east over East Campus Mall, past the beautiful old red brick Science Hall.  If you look to the right far enough, you see lake Mendota and the sail boats.   There are tall glass windows that look onto the lobby outside the Bursar’s Office.  And, on one wall there is a really big white board.  I like really big white boards.

I had a meeting scheduled for this room but it was cancelled.  I asked to keep the room so I could use it to think for 90 minutes.  I was in there alone, sketching ideas and mapping out strategies on the white board.  I could go to the far end of the room and look at the overall picture.  I could stare out the window and think.  Or, I could sit down and ponder a specific question or topic.


… a colleague, a director with a great sense of humor, spots me in this conference room all by myself.   She pokes her head in and asks, “Did they just leave you here all by yourself?  Won’t they even come sit with you anymore?” We laughed and told her about the cancelled meeting and me taking time to think.

She looked at the white board and paused then said very seriously, “I don’t know if I know how to think creatively anymore.  I mean, I’m so busy doing stuff I’m not sure I remember how to just think.”   We chatted so more and laughed and she left.

As I thought about this conversation I realized that she had hit on something I have been struggling through with a team I’m leading.  It is staffed by people who are deep in the “do-er” category.  I send them back and ask them to think about what we have done, what they have learned, if they have insights.  I get mostly blank replies when I ask, “what did you come up with?”  

I think that if they get 30 minutes in their day their heads are instantly filled with all the action items they haven’t gotten done yet, and personnel problems, and dinner plans and soccer matches and…   I’m not sure they have practiced stopping all of that noise and spending time “thinking deeply and creatively” about a problem (that wasn’t solving an operational issue) in a long time.

I’m not sure they really know how to “think” anymore.  

It will be an interesting problem to deal with.

So, right now, stop all that noise in your head and do a bit, maybe just 15 minutes, of real thinking about an issue that you are wrestling with.  Then, consider how you might make this a breakthrough practice.


.  .  .  .   jim