Are you doing things that suit your preferred thinking style?
Thinking styles were advanced by Robert Sternberg in his book Thinking Styles. His main thesis is that there are several thinking styles that we exhibit from childhood and that these styles give us a lot of insight into how we should educate our children and how we should determine what we do as adults.
His first three broad categories of thinking styles are legislative, executive, and judicial, but I’ve rephrased these as dreamers, doers, and reviewers. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Dreamers “like to come up with their own ways of doing things, and prefer to decide for themselves what they will do and how they will do it.” Dreamers have a strong tendency to be highly creative and can be particularly effective leaders and entrepreneurs. They also tend to have trouble following their own plans and making their ideas come to life.
Doers “like to follow rules and prefer problems that are prestructured or prefabricated. They like to fill in the gaps within existing structures rather than create the structures themselves.” Doers tend to be highly valued in organizations and are exceptionally prone to external motivation, but they also have trouble with internal direction.
Reviewers “like to evaluate rules and problems, and prefer problems in which one analyzes and evaluate existing things and ideas.” Reviewers are great analysts and process people, but they can also come across as harsh and judgmental, even they have the best of intentions.
Thinking Styles Are Preferences, Not Abilities
It’s important to understand that thinking styles are preferences, not abilities. They are what we would do on our own if we had the free choice to do so. For instance, some people love reading and editing the work of others, but have no desire to create their own stuff, even though they are technically better skilled than the authors they’re reading. Alternatively, some people love to do tasks that other people “assign” them but have no inclination to decide what they should be doing on their own or to edit the work of others. (If you don’t get why some people like being a VA or copyeditor, examine your own thinking style.)
Once we understand that thinking styles are preferences and not abilities, we can start making sense of the difference between aptitude and desire and can get out of the rut of thinking that we should do the things we’re good at because we’re good at them. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it – especially if it doesn’t suit your thinking style.
The following are other points to think about:
1. There’s little necessary correlation between ability and style
It’s counter-intuitive, but a lot of people get good at doing things that don’t fit their style. Most people learn to be doers since it’s so highly rewarded in our society, even though they’re naturally dreamers or reviewers. The other pattern that’s common is that people want to be dreamers but aren’t particularly good at it.
2. You Can Have One Style In Area But Not In Others
A further confusion is that we can be dreamers in one area but not others. For instance, I’m primarily a dreamer in most areas, but I’m a doer when it comes to housework; I’d much prefer to be told what to do and in what order to do it. I’m a dreamer when it comes to writer, but more of a reviewer when it comes to graphic design (this was a hard lesson for me to learn). Knowing your thinking styles in the different areas of your life is helpful because it helps you communicate and work with others more effectively; once Angela got that I wasn’t a dreamer when it came to housework, a lot of friction and frustration dissolved, as you might imagine.
3. It’s Best to Align Your Activities With Your Preferences
Whereas it’s possible to be good at an activity that doesn’t match your style, it’s much more difficult to excel at activities that don’t suit your thinking style. If you match your thinking styles with the activities you do, then excelling at those activities is far easier because you’re not trying to resolve what you want to be doing with what you are doing.
4. It’s Best to Find Or Build A Team That Compliments Your Style
A team full of doers is directionless. A team full of dreamers never get anything done. A team of reviewers stifle each other. A “perfect” team will have the right balance of dreamers, doers, and reviewers to handle the task at hand.
Though at times I’ve explained thinking styles as though we are one type or the other, the reality is that many of us – especially dreamers and reviewers – are mixtures of the styles. Thus, it makes sense to understand your thinking styles by ranking them, since it’s very rare that people are so dominantly one or the other. For instance, I’m generally a dreamer, a reviewer, and then a doer, in that order, although that I’ve come to realize that one of my strengths is that I’m fairly blended.
That said, it’s no wonder that this blog started as an attempt to translate productivity and time management ideas in a way that made sense to creative people – I was reviewing the available literature and translating it in a language that fit my natural thinking style so that I can manifest the ideas I had into shareable stuff, which was my root weakness. If I was primarily a doer, this blog would probably be about gaining perspective and direction (dreaming) and analyzing my own patterns (reviewing).
Are you a dreamer, a doer, or a reviewer? Does understanding your thinking style help you make sense of your strengths and weaknesses?