Today’s silly question at HBS

Posted by on Jul 1, 2008 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

…is “why don’t managers think deeply?”

Answers on a postcard please (or in comment box, I guess)

But here are some starters for you…
i. Managers like all humans tend to do stuff first and make sense of it later
ii. Managers (ditto) tend to do what those are around them are doing
iii. Thinking is nowhere near as important in shaping Managers’ behaviour as they will tell you it is…
iv. Like “deepness” is the answer…(Viktor Frankl’s great story about the psychoanalysis patient and the shirtmaker tells you why)

Your call


  1. Phil Hodgen
    July 1, 2008

    Thinking deeply may be overrated.
    SOME thinking is essential. You need a theory against which to test reality. (Otherwise you are living in 40,000-monkeys-with-typewriters-land, hoping for jellybeans to erupt from random activity).
    But the theory need not be deep. A quick, simple plan followed by immediate action is all you need.
    You really can’t do too much damage even with a wrong decision if you watch results (tested against the theory and the desired outcome) and change course quickly.
    So. Shallow thinking + immediate action + humility (“Oops I made a mistake, let’s change course”) = WIN.
    Deep thinking is for professors. Ask yourself how much they are paid.
    ‘nuf said. šŸ™‚

  2. Mark Hadfield
    July 2, 2008

    In educational terms, thinking deeply is about immersing yourself into a problem to fully realise its potential and how you should sort of forget what the end goal is and try to push boundaries. Conversely, surface learning is about basically doing what you need to do to answer the brief. Don’t fully immerse yourself, don’t allow yourself to be distracted, and head straight to the answer via the odd helpful thing.
    Surface learning is a straight(ish) line that is planned in advance, and deep learning is going beyond ‘A to B’ and looking for ‘C’, and getting there by rigorous research, strategic thinking and very importantly: taking risks.
    Being a ‘manager’ is a balancing act between risk and safety, with the balance heavily on safety – I’d say. By their very nature they’ve got to act as a surface learner as on paper it’s more efficient and leads to satisfactory results most of the time. Deep learning leads to amazing results some of the time.
    Unfortunately the managers of the managers want satisfactory most of the time instead of amazing some of the time.
    Well, that’s what I think, anyway!

  3. Geoff Brown
    July 3, 2008

    vii. building on point i. – yes they act first and make sense later … in my experience they are too busy to actually “notice” what is actually going on to even enter a state “deep thinking”.