Stop Dissing the Thinkers

The title on my business card — and in many places, my short bio — reads “Freelance Thinker.” But you know what? Nobody has ever asked to hire me to do some thinking for them. (A real shame, if you ask me.) No matter what “deliverables” I offer a client, the most important thing behind them is my expertise, my insight, my thinking. I could call myself a “problem solver” or “philosopher” or any of a number of similar things, but I doubt it would change anything because people tend to assume they can think for themselves. Truth be told, most people undervalue thinking. Oh, it’s not that they don’t want others to think before they act, or think before they speak — but that’s normally a common-sense level of thinking. What I’m talking about is bigger-picture, structural, or philosophical thinking. The “diss” I’m talking about is exemplified in aphoristic advice like these:

To See What You're Missing

card2207 A recent Jessica Hagy Diagram caught my interest (do the ol’ click-to-enlarge thing), reminding me of things I’ve said before about thinking differently and challenging assumptions. It’s an important process and one I fancy as a kind of specialty of mine. In approaching any challenge, I’m continually trying to see it from a different angle in order to get the necessary perspective to see the solution, whether it’s conventional or not. Along these lines, the other day Seth Godin wrote about the scientific method,

If you enter a conversation looking for something to test, measure and ultimately change, it's likely you'll find it. That change makes you more competitive, and you continue to cycle past your competitors. On the other hand, if you enter a conversation concerned about maintaining the status quo, it's likely that this is exactly what you're going to do.

Think Differently: Electrical Outlets

My friend John La Grou johnlagrou of Millennia Media and SafePlug is an inventor and an entrepreneur, to name just two of the bullets on his resumé. As readers here will know, I’m big on thinking differently — not an easy trick, but one which gives you the fresh perspective to break out of assumed molds. It’s a skill that is necessary both to inventors and to entrepreneurs. At the most recent TED conference, John gave a very brief TED Talk on one of the inventions he’s worked on, a new kind of “smart” power outlet that reduces the risk of fire considerably more than GFI plugs and standard circuit breakers could hope to do. It’s an idea he and some friends arrived at by thinking differently.