Gain a reputation for always being the one with new ideas and solutions to problems and you’ll quickly set yourself apart from the pact. That distinction requires brainpower. But trying to think on your feet under pressure before an audience or offering answers off the cuff in a meeting doesn’t always represent your best thinking.
So what exactly does improve your chances for analytical thinking?
1. Argue your case or prove your point in writing
Writing proves to be a tough task master. You can’t fake it. You can’t mumble through it. You can’t fill up the screen by simply staring at it. I’ve just finished my 47th book, and I can say from experience that writing is the single best thing to develop or deepen thinking skills.
By the time I slog through the process to develop a solid argument from beginning to end, I always realize how little I knew at the start. Writing demands planning, research, analysis, creativity, and organization. Writing forces you to think—that is, unless you plan to write drivel. And most of us recognize drivel when we see it, especially our own.
2. Imagine yourself seeking capital from a roomful of venture capitalists
With an idea or recommendation that you’d like to propose to a client or your own executive team, acceptance is rarely a slam-dunk. If you feel passionate about the idea, it may be difficult to see downsides or dangers that could derail your success. Yet seeing and mitigating the risks determines your success. That said, eventually, you’ll need to roll out enough details so that you or others can implement the product, service, goal, or whatever.
Imagine yourself in a conference room surrounded by VCs. What questions will they ask you before investing in your idea?
Now back to the drawing board for analysis: Look at what you wrote in Step 1. What did those VCs want to know that you didn’t tell them? Fill in the missing gaps to give a clear, complete, accurate picture.
3. Sit for a final exam with your virtual “board”
If you’ve completed a master’s degree or PhD program, then you’ve had the experience of facing a group of professors while they question you about everything you’ve read and studied during the previous 2-4 years of your study program. If you haven’t gone through that grueling experience, then you’ve probably heard from others who have.
To improve your thinking on the new idea, simulate that experience for yourself. Ask three colleagues to get on a conference call with you. Give them a quick briefing (2-minute) on your idea (as applicable, include the what, why, when, how, who, how much).
Then open the floor for 5 minutes to take their questions. What else do they need to know before “approving,” “sponsoring,” “implementing,” or “recommending” the idea to others? Don’t answer their questions; just voice record or make note of what they ask.
This board exercise will demonstrate what you may have missed in your own first analysis of your idea: Did you leave out important information? Did they connect the proverbial dots in the overview you communicated to them? Did they get sidetracked by nonessential information?
If so, at the least, this exercise tells you that still have work to do on the idea. At its most powerful, this exercise reveals general concepts about how to think big.
Granted, analytical thinking is hard work, but facing a blank screen or a virtual “board of buddies” can be far less brutal than implementing a half-baked idea.