The Concept of Productive Thinking
Foundational Concepts

Thinking productively is about creating the future. It's about a way to see more clearly, think more creatively, and plan more effectively. When you think productively, you think better, more effectively, and more powerfully. The Productive Thinking Model taught in this series shines a bright light on the productive thinking strategies that people we celebrate for their creativity have been using for centuries. Productive thinking is a skill that anyone can learn and develop. Regardless of your starting point, you can learn to use your mind better.

In this course, you will learn about the concepts and ideas that support productive thinking. You'll learn about the six steps in the Productive Thinking Model. You'll also learn that even though it's hard work, thinking is a skill that you can learn. Finally, you'll learn to recognize thinking avoidance strategies, so that you can find alternative, more productive ways of thinking.

Solving problems using productive thinking is about seeing more clearly, thinking more creatively, and planning more effectively.

All of us have the potential to think better. The first step is to free ourselves from the unproductive thinking patterns that hold us back. There's an interesting little insect known as the processionary caterpillar that can teach us a lot about the stifling habits of everyday thinking.

Processionaries got their name because of their distinctive behavior. When they leave their nests to forage for food, they travel in a line, like elephants in a circus, head to tail, head to tail. The lead caterpillar spins a fine trail of silk as it crawls along. The next caterpillar in line walks along the silk trail and adds its own. Processionaries can form trains hundreds of creatures long as they march through the forest.

If you remove the lead caterpillar, the second in line takes its place. If you remove the new lead, the next will take its place. The trailing caterpillars don't seem to care about the change in leadership. At some time in our lives we've all been processionary caterpillars, mindlessly following a trail of silk for no reason except that it's laid out before us.

It's all too easy to be a part of the procession and not even realize we're in the parade. It's not the exceptional day that we find ourselves in the procession. It's most days. We go through our lives following the patterns we've grown comfortable with. We do things because that's the way they're done. Our routines seem so natural that it doesn't even occur to us that we're following patterns at all. We overlook opportunities, fail to see warning signs, or just plod along because we've kept our eye, not on the target, but on the routine. It happens to all of us.

At its heart, productive thinking is about freedom. It's a way of escaping from the tyranny of the silken track.

Sometimes, of course, there's real value in following the procession. It can be useful and efficient to do things the way they've always been done. Clearly, social conventions, thinking conventions, and best practices have very important and powerful places in our lives. They represent a type of thinking called reproductive thinking, which is refining what you already know.

In many areas of our lives there is nothing wrong with reproductive thinking. After all, the behavior of the processionary caterpillar has been a successful survival mechanism for millions of years. Nevertheless, there are times when reproductive thinking can be counterproductive and even disastrous. All of us have the potential to think better, more productively, and more creatively. What we need is the incentive. The silken track is alluring: It's safe, it's easy, and in many cases it works just fine. Rarely will you be criticized for sticking to it. No wonder most people are content to play follow the leader.

Thinking better is hard work. It can be risky. And it can certainly make you unpopular. So why bother? Because better thinking is a risk worth taking. The Productive Thinking Model is a framework that will help you think better, think more effectively, and think more powerfully. Many companies use it to generate fresh solutions for tough business problems; many individuals rely on it to solve pressing personal problems. In both cases, thinking can change lives.

There is an actual productive thinking process, and its principles are straight-forward. You first separate your thinking into creative thinking and critical thinking. You must also make sure that you stay with the question. As you move forward, you strive for what the model calls the "third third" — or brainstorming by generating lots and lots of ideas. Along the way, you need to be on the lookout for unexpected connections.

There are six interlocking steps to the Productive Thinking Model.

Step one is What's Going On? In this step, you'll explore and get to where you truly understand the challenge.

Step two is what’s Success? During this step, you envision the ideal outcome for the challenge and establish your success criteria.

In step three, What's the Question? you become able to pinpoint the real problem or opportunity.

In step four, Generate Answers, you'll brainstorm and list many, many possible solutions.

Step five, Forge the Solution, is when you decide which solution is the best one. Then you examine that choice further and make it even better.

The sixth and final step is Align Resources. This is where you create the action plan.

Following these principles — and the six actual steps in the model — will help you adopt an attitude that will let you look at problems and convert them into opportunities. Once you've completed this disciplined, brainstorming process, you'll have a concrete action plan, complete with timelines and deadlines.

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