What is Conceptual Thinking?
Conceptual thinking is the ability to evaluate, understand and implement strategic solutions for hypothetical scenarios. In other words find connections and patterns between abstract ideas and then put them together in a comprehensive picture.
Why Is This Skill Important?
Without this skill, you would not have the ability to set long-term goals, lay out a strategic path to reach them and be successful in both your life and career. As a coach, I’ve observed that it isn’t necessarily that people lack the skill of conceptual thinking but, but rather that they rarely take the time to implement this highly valuable skill.
Here’s an example of a scenario where this skill can be useful. Recently Company A formed a business partnership with Company B. A segment of employees will come under the umbrella of both companies. Many of these employees have a 20-year tenure with Company A. These loyal employees did not receive any details, only that they would be under this new “dual” management. Further, they would be physically moving to another building of Company A and that their pay, benefits, tasks, titles, etc. would all remain in place. However, one employee happened to read in a local paper that the “partnership” split with the new company would be Company A would retain 49% and Company B would have 51%. These employees are upset because they feel that they are being summarily pushed aside, given away and are feeling unvalued. The employees have two choices. One choice is to react by showing their disappointment, be bitter, become unproductive and a cog in the wheels of progress. The second choice is that they can engage in conceptual thinking and examine some long-term possible outcomes of the effect this partnership can have on their careers and personal lives. They can then examine hypothetical scenarios, set goals and prepare for any outcome. Both Company A and Company B can engage in the same process for business purposes.
How to Develop or Improve this Skill
Some tools that can help in conceptual thinking are brainstorming, flowcharts and mind maps. You could even conduct a S.W.O.T. on yourself. The beauty of these tools is that they are useful either alone or with one or several other people.
- Be willing to look at yourself. There are several ways to accomplish this. Try using the Johari Window. You may have to have someone you trust help you with this process. Take a valid, reliable and scientifically based assessment such as the DISC and Motivators. See a therapist or hire a coach. Taking a close look at self, helps us to understand how we think, thereby helping us improve our thinking.
- Be willing to challenge the status quo. Ask why things are done the way they are and why can’t they be done another way.
- Eliminate unproductive and unrealistic thinking. This is not to suggest that one stop thinking big or even daydreaming. This suggestion has more to do with self-defeating thought processes.
- Maintain an optimistic mindset. Studies indicate that optimistic thinkers are more successful than pessimistic thinkers.
- Keep up with your industry and the industry where you your future might lead.
- Examine projects, decisions and activities from the past and think about what made each a success or failure.
- Assess risks and plan for “what if” scenarios then develop solutions for each
- Stay alert to strategic opportunities. The example above is a good one.
When changes come such as the scenario above, you will be the one who is cool, calm and collected while colleagues stand around wringing their hands. Moreover, applying these concepts to your business life will help prove your value continuously. Applying them to your own life helps prepare you for any scenario, avoid failure, establish and reach goals.