By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – February 12, 2024
I’m a fan of what I call insightful thinking, and I’m sharing a simple example that I think beautifully illustrates the difference between insightful thinking and methodical thinking as a way to help delineate the different types of problem-solving strategies. Let’s begin by defining a few terms so we are paying attention to the same thing.
I define methodical thinking as acting or thinking in a systematic or sequential way and proceeding systematically, without trial and error, by adhering to a predetermined method, system, or known relationship.
On the other hand, insightful thinking is a sudden and immediate comprehension or understanding that takes place without overt trial and error, which occurs when people recognize relationships or make novel associations between objects or actions that can help them solve new problems.
Now, let’s look at the difference between insightful thinking and methodical thinking by looking at a glass of water in the following example:
Explaining stress management, a professor raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass?” Answers ranged between 8 to 12 ounces.
The professor replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I try to hold it. If I hold it a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, it gets more challenging. If I hold it for a day, it gets heavy. In each case, the absolute weight remains unchanged, but the longer I hold the glass, the heavier it becomes.”
Do you see the difference in answers? The weight in ounces is a result of methodical thought. Put the glass on a scale and measure its absolute weight or, in this case, guess its absolute weight based on experience. Now, contrast this to the professor’s response. His insight around how heavy the glass is was based on paying attention to it differently by paying attention to it in the context of time.
Can you see the difference in thinking? On the one hand, you have the methodical thinking of paying attention to the absolute weight as a means to determine how heavy the glass of water is. On the other hand, you have insightful thinking showing that heaviness is linked to time. But note that what you determined to be obvious in this example is a function of what you were paying attention to.
So, what is the purpose of this writing? It’s simple! I’m sharing it to help you gain more insight on the difference between insightful thinking and methodical thinking, so that you will more readily question what you’re paying attention to when the obvious solution isn’t working for you (which is made more difficult by methodical thinking). And when you realize something isn’t working for you, you will begin to use insightful thinking to look for solutions.