5 types of thinking that lead to successful careers

types of thinking.
Different types of work calls for different types of thinking. Source: AFP

From the dawn of humanity, when our ancestors first grappled with the complexities of fire and tool-making, to the modern-day strategist analysing market trends, thinking has been at the core of human progress.

This evolution from primitive problem-solving to sophisticated analytical and creative thought processes highlights a fundamental truth: thinking is the engine of human achievement.

Understanding the different types of thinking and honing these skills is not just a personal benefit but a necessity in today’s fast-paced, information-rich world.

The benefits of good thinking

Why is effective thinking crucial, and how does it impact both the fledgling intern and the seasoned CEO?

At its essence, good thinking is the bedrock of innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making. It’s the catalyst that transforms challenges into opportunities and ideas into realities.

For the junior worker, adept thinking skills mean navigating complex tasks and contributing meaningfully to team objectives.

They’re more likely to identify problems or propose innovative solutions, directly impacting their value within the company.

This can lead to recognition and career advancement, with some studies showing a potential salary increase of 10-15% for those demonstrating strong thinking capabilities.

At the executive level, the stakes are even higher. CEOs with well-honed thinking skills are better equipped to steer their companies through turbulent markets and seize competitive advantages.

This is not mere conjecture; research supports the link between executive thinking styles and company performance.

For example, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found that CEOs who excel in adaptive thinking a blend of analytical, creative, and strategic thought — are more likely to lead their companies to success. In some cases, these companies have seen revenue increases of up to 20%.

The anecdotes of industry leaders underscore this point. Consider the approach of Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, who is known for her strategic and innovative thinking.

Under her leadership, PepsiCo saw significant financial growth and successfully navigated a shift towards healthier products, a move praised for its foresight and understanding of market trends.

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Poor thinking can sabotage careers and hinder corporate progress. Source: Shutterstock

The painful pitfalls of poor thinking

However, not all thinking is created equal. Poor thinking can sabotage careers and hinder corporate progress. Three common pitfalls are particularly detrimental:

  • Tunnel vision: This occurs when individuals focus too narrowly on a single aspect of a problem, ignoring broader effects. For example, a sales manager might be so intent on hitting quarterly targets that they fail to notice shifting customer preferences, ultimately leading to long-term losses.
  • Confirmation bias: This is when we seek information that supports our pre-existing beliefs while ignoring contradictory evidence. A product developer might ignore negative feedback on a new product, convinced of its potential success, leading to costly missteps.
  • Overthinking: Often referred to as “analysis paralysis,” this is where an individual becomes so caught up in examining every possible angle that they fail to make timely decisions. An HR manager might delay hiring a needed employee, trying to find the “perfect” candidate, resulting in lost productivity.
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Analytical thinking involves breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable parts to understand it better. Source: AFP

Five most important types of thinking to succeed at work

To navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, understanding and mastering different types of thinking is crucial.

Analytical thinking

This involves breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable parts to understand it better.

It’s key for roles that require dealing with large amounts of data or complex systems.

For example, a financial analyst might use analytical thinking to dissect a company’s financial statements, identifying trends and potential risk areas.

To practise analytical thinking, one can start by tackling a complex problem and methodically breaking it down into its constituent elements.

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Jake Paul was a former Graphic Designer at Oracle Red Bull Racing. Source: AFP

Creative thinking

This type of thinking goes beyond the conventional to generate new ideas and innovative solutions. It’s crucial in roles that require innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

For example, a graphic designer might use creative thinking to conceptualise a unique ad campaign that captures the audience’s attention in novel ways.

Jake Paul, a former Graphic Designer at Oracle Red Bull Racing, shares: “One hour I could be creating 3D mockups of the car for our commercial team to attract new partners, creating large format prints for our hospitality team and Paddock Club, the next I could be updating our assets for our Esports team.”

To enhance creative thinking, try engaging with a colleague in a different department. They may be able to see the issue from an angle you would never consider.

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Feel stuck? Try thinking about your favourite artwork. Source: AFP

Critical thinking

This involves evaluating information and arguments in an objective, thoughtful, and skeptical manner.

It’s vital in decision-making processes, where it’s essential to consider various perspectives and potential outcomes.

For example, a project manager might play devil’s advocate in assessing his or her initiative or anticipate getting the worst opinions from their superiors. By doing this, it’s likelier for them to avoid confirmation bias.

To improve critical thinking, start by asking more questions and seeking out differing viewpoints, especially those that challenge your own.

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Abstract thinking is essential for roles that require vision and long-term planning. Source: Shutterstock

Abstract thinking

This is the ability to think about objects, principles, and ideas that are not physically present. It’s essential for roles that require vision and long-term planning.

An entrepreneur, for example, uses abstract thinking to envision how current trends might impact future business opportunities.

One way is by using no code application to build and create blogs, online marketplaces, and even fully-fledged Software as a Service (SaaS) apps. No code refers to web and mobile development using a drag-and-drop interface.

To develop abstract thinking, here’s an unconventional step you can take: find spaces with high ceilings and dim lighting. They are found to promote creative and abstract thinking, according to research.

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A worker in Alipay’s tech team must master various types of thinking from his colleague in the HR department. Source: AFP

Linear and nonlinear thinking

Linear thinking is a sequential, step-by-step approach to problem-solving, while nonlinear thinking involves making leaps and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Both are essential in different contexts. For example, a software developer might use linear thinking to write code, where each step logically follows from the last.

In contrast, a marketing strategist might use nonlinear thinking to draw connections between disparate consumer trends to develop a unique marketing strategy.

From understanding how artificial intelligence affect consumer behaviour to navigating e-commerce, learning to connect the dots will help you match the right marketing strategies.

To develop linear thinking, try volunteering to plan your office or family’s day out, with an hour-by-hour schedule.

For nonlinear thinking, ask more “what if” questions. You can ask “what if it Bill Gates was never born and we don’t have Microsoft Office to perform all our tasks?” “what if we had 10 team members instead of three?”

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For young professionals and students, cultivating the right types of thinking skills is imperative for navigating an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Source: AFP

For young fresh graduates, think well to do well

Mastering various types of thinking is not just a personal achievement; it’s a critical component of professional success and innovation.

For young professionals and students, cultivating these skills is imperative for navigating an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Whether it’s the analytical prowess to dissect problems, the creative insight to envision novel solutions, the critical acumen to make informed decisions, the abstract ability to foresee future trends, or the linear and nonlinear agility to adapt to different scenarios, these thinking skills open doors to endless possibilities and career growth.