Speed Thinking
Dr. Ken Hudson - Author and Consultant

Most senior managers are pressed for time, but according to Dr. Ken Hudson this can actually improve the quality of their ideas. Dr. Ken Hudson is an organizational consultant and the author  of the recent book ‘Speed Thinking: How to thrive in a time-poor world’ .  He describes his views below

ceoforum.com.au: What is speed thinking?

Dr. Ken Hudson:  Speed thinking is a technique that helps individuals and teams become productive, energized and creative in time-pressured situations. It was based on an insight I had when I was conducting training sessions for managers.  The insight was this: whenever I gave individuals or groups a problem to solve, and gave them less time to come up with a solution than they expected, they were able to come up with better solutions.  That insight was the start of the development of my speed thinking system, which I have described in this book.

ceoforum.com.au:  Why do you think those managers became more productive when they had less time to come up with a solution?

KH:  I believe that occurred for a number of reasons.  First, they become more focused.  Because they only had a short time to work with, they needed to get to the heart of the problem, rather than skirt around the problem.  Second, not having a lot of time meant they couldn’t over-think the problem, and even procrastinate.  Finally, although this is hard to prove. I believe they were using more right-brain thinking in how they tackled the problem (Editor’s note: Some researchers see the right side of the brain as being more involved in pattern recognition and ‘big picture’ thinking, whereas the left side of the brain is more associated with liner, logical, detail-oriented thinking).  As a result of these three factors, they became more efficient and productive in their thinking.

ceoforum.com.au:  What kinds of decisions are suitable, and what kinds of decisions are not suitable, for speed thinking?

KH:  Speed thinking works best for the simple, everyday kind of decisions that people make every day.  For more significant decisions, however, more reflection and more analysis is required.  The key is to fit a decision-making process to a decision – there is no single ideal process for all the different kinds of business decisions we face.

My experience with clients is that managers are sometimes applying complex processes to what are really fairly simple decisions. Sometimes this is driven by a fear of being wrong, which can make people avoid taking a decision at all.  Other times it is about people wanting to be, or wanting to be seen to be, totally rational in their decision-making.  This results in people sometimes spending a lot of time assembling information to rationalize decisions they may have made on at least a partially non-rational basis.  

The net effect of all this, of course, is that spending too much time on simple decisions means that managers don’t have the time to reflect on the really important decisions they face.

ceoforum.com.au:  Can you give an example of how can speed thinking be applied to group decision making, which is often the norm in business?

KH:  One example would be brainstorming sessions.  Traditionally, these can only generate ideas as quickly as the designated scribe can write them down, which means the whole group’s momentum is constrained by how quickly that individual can write!  We get around this in speed thinking by giving every participant a pen to record their own ideas, and find that both the number and quality of ideas often increases as a result.

Meetings are another big issue.  If you ask most managers, they will say they attend too many meetings, the meetings go too long, and they are often unproductive.  If you consider that most managers spend anything from thirty to fifty percent of their time in meetings, this is an important issue to address.

There are some fairly simple techniques that can be applied to help with this.  First, shorten the meetings.  Many organizations operate on a default time of an hour, but this can be reduced to, say, forty five minutes.  Our experience with clients is that they get as much done in this shorter time frame, and, by not having back-to-back meetings scheduled on the hour, people can actually get to meetings on time.  

Another good idea is reorder agenda items, to have the simplest items at the front.  These can be quickly decided on, which both builds decision-making momentum and allows more time to concentrate on more strategic issues later in the meeting.

ceoforum.com.au:  What are the 2-3 things a CEO can do to speed up their own, and their organization’s, decision-making?

KH:  Separate the day-to-day decisions from the truly strategic.  Day-to-day decisions are good candidates for quick decisions.

Second, trust your intuition.  I’m surprised how much time managers spend second-guessing themselves, instead of recognizing the power of their first takes on a decision.

Third, there are some simple techniques that can be applied to day-to-decisions.  Spend two minutes, for instance, in writing down nine ‘pros’ for a decision, and two minutes writing down nine ‘cons’.  In four minutes you will have created a good  structure around your intuitions, and thus have a good basis on which to make the actual decision.

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