by Henry Elisher,
Business Analysts Pty Ltd Consultant
In this two-part blog we look at what the concept of ‘thinking differently’ means and how it applies within our BA practice.
Part A asks the question of what it means to think differently and asks the question of where our starting point should be if we want to change our mindset
Part B highlights the way we can make a conscious effort to think differently and touches on my own experiences and how I’ve been able to utilise them in looking at problems from different perspectives
A few months ago we at BAPL adopted a new email signature that also included the moniker of ‘think differently’, an informal label meant to draw attention to a particular attribute of what business analysts do at BAPL. Our CEO, Tim Coventry , when referring to BAPL stated;
‘Everything we do at BAPL, we believe in challenging the traditional thinking. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge these traditional thoughts is by delivering exceptional business analysis, which is easily to implement and collaborative…’
Whilst that made sense to me, at times I would look at those two words, ‘think differently’, positioned in the email signature above my name and wonder what it really meant to me. Did it mean that I had to make a concerted effort to change everything I do? Did mean that I had to be more challenging or even antagonistic in my approach in order to challenge what was traditionally held to be the ‘correct way’ of doing things? I let the concept simmer for a while. What I understand now, after having that concept float around in my mind for a while, is that discovery and innovation simply doesn’t materialise out of nothing, it’s not some type of ethereal magic or gifted intellect that gets you to a destination. Simple ideas or even major breakthroughs arise from the association and recombination of what is already lying about in the corners of our minds.
Fast forward a couple of months from where initial thoughts began. I’m sitting at Crown casino listening to my boyhood idol, Steve Waugh, as he talked us through the most memorable moments of his career. Test debut against India at the MCG 1985, test average 51.07, test hundreds 32, test wickets 92. I knew all the stats, as I’m sure most of the audience did too. As the evening moved along we finished up with a 20-30 mins Q&A session. I sat back and thought about a question I’d like to ask, specifically cricket related, and also listened in to the typical cricket questions being asked by other, all of which were as you’d expect, ‘What was your best innings?’, ‘Who was the most difficult bowler you faced?’, ‘What did you really say to Herschelle Gibbs?’, and then, this question, ‘What is your strategy when it comes to leadership, what is the most challenging aspect of being a leader and how did you manage so many large personalities?’
The moment the question was asked I just thought ‘how obvious, that’s a small stroke of genius’. Why wouldn’t you ask that question? One of the most high profile leadership positions in the country, asking Steve Waugh about his philosophy on leadership makes total sense, of course I’d like to know about that. It was a very simple question, quite astute, but also, it took some form of analytical thought, a move away from a linear train of steps. It wasn’t ground breaking but it didn’t have to be. Some of the greatest ideas are elegant, simple and to some degree obvious. They exist in plain sight, they’re the ones where you say, ‘I wish I’d thought of that’.
That’s how I got to here. I wanted to know how people actually go about thinking differently and, in the process, permit themselves to behave differently?
Where do we start?
As the world changes around us we have to be able to balance the concept of thinking differently to that of growing our expertise. When I say that, what I’m driving at are two types of approaches. First, there is your expertise or knowledge base. This is like an ever expanding tool kit, it’s your BABOK framework, your access to readymade business analyst techniques, learnings from previous studies. It’s your knowledge platform if you will. Personally I like to call this ‘steady state’ knowledge. It’s the body of evidence we use to perform in the manner in which we’re expected. Some people may have more, some people less but the critical thing to note is here we all draw from the roughly the same set of tools. What that should highlight immediately is that the idea or will to challenge traditional thoughtsand behave differentlywill not evolve from simply repeating or utilising what already exists. Using the same tools within the same framework won’t differentiate you as an individual, or as a collective for that matter. You may become more efficient by doing this through experience but it certainly won’t mean that you’re thinking differently.
Altogether different from your growth in expertise is the idea of your ability to make rapid decisions. This is the decision making we’re forced to utilise when it comes to the recognition of new patterns or the ability to connect two or more isolated points that don’t appear to be related. It’s our minds method we draw upon when delving into our complete library of knowledge and experiences in order to apply them to problems or situations that exist outside of our immediate sphere of reference. In this instance the ‘immediate sphere of reference’ I refer to is our roles as business analysts and our linear approaches to providing value to organisations, solving problems, removing waste, etc.
Recognising that our frameworks, methodologies and techniques are just a perspective or one of the options we can utilise to problem solving should be the trigger we can use to explore other avenues. No method or framework is perfect and each fact scenario we face can be viewed in a multi-faceted manner. Great thinkers go about searching for different ways at arriving at a solution, not editing or discarding them immediately when they initially appear impractical or too hard.