Learn How To Become A Better Thinker

ANALYTICAL THINKING

ANALYTICAL thinking

Essential to break complex problems down into smaller, more manageable issues. Discover how it can help you make sense of the biggest puzzles. 

Week 1

The idea

You need to be familiar with the main idea behind the thinking style. It’s the introduction that sets the scene for all the work that’s coming. Understand what the thinking style is all about first, and you’ll be able to start reflecting and connecting the dots. 

To present the idea behind the thinking style, I prepared a video that explains it. In the video, I introduce you to the thinking style with some conceptual knowledge, but you also get some of my personal understanding and interpretation of it. 

Week 2

Principles

Every thinking style has some foundational principles that you need to understand and implement to make use of the style. It’s like a rule book for a given thinking style, so make sure you get yourself familiar with them and think how you could apply them.

I distilled the readings and materials on each thinking style into foundational but simple principles and I present them to you here. I discuss how to apply them and challenge you to make some immediate changes that get you further into implementing them.

  • 1. Clearly define the problem, issue or topic within the analytical framework

    The first rule of using analytical thinking is to define the problem, issue or topic you’re facing as clearly and concretely as you can. Then you need to frame this problem statement as an analytical thinking issue – if you can’t do it, you need to apply a different thinking style.
    One of the biggest challenges we’re facing as thinkers is stating our issues clearly and concretely. Instead of sharply formulated problem statements, we’re trying to think about questions or ideas that are ill-defined, and very often just flowing freely and changing shape. Don’t think “how can I make my business successful?”, but instead think “how can I increase profitability to break even next year?”. Once you have a problem statement like this one, you can check if it can be solved with analytical thinking. And this is how you do it! The main problem is “profitability” – does profitability have natural sub-components? Indeed, profitability can be defined as “revenues” minus “costs”, so there’s already a way to break this problem down. Even if there are no natural sub-components, try to think of potential sub-components of your problem, if you can. This is a clear signal you can approach the problem of your profitability with analytical thinking.
  • 2. Break the problem statement down into smaller problems

    Once you confirm you can use analytical thinking, start breaking your problem statement down into smaller problems in writing. Most problem statements naturally divide into two or three, so start there.
    Take a piece of paper, write your problem statement down and draw smaller problems that the main issue is made up of. Returning to “profitability” above, you can easily break it down into “revenues” and “costs”. Then the problem you’re facing is not increasing the overwhelming profitability but using the next year to increase your revenues and cut down your costs. These two smaller problems are already much more concrete and with graspable solutions.
  • 3. Continue breaking smaller problems into even smaller problems

    Don’t stop just at the first layer of depth. The strength of analytical thinking lies in going deep into the problem into its smallest parts. Continue the process until you reach small problems that are solvable and actionable, as a rule of thumb, in a few days.
    Continue drawing your diagram and breaking each smaller problem into even smaller two or three problems in turn. “Revenues” could be further broken down into revenue sources, product lines, or for example passive and active revenue. If you’re selling three main services, then the problem becomes how to increase your revenue from every service separately. Then you take the first service, and the problem statement becomes “how to increase revenue from this service”. Continue drilling down until you get to the point where you can start thinking of solutions that can be implemented within a few days. By the end of this process, your diagram should look like a root, or an upside-down tree. Don’t be tempted to stop once you got a clearer or better idea of the problem. Complete the whole problem tree, because stopping too soon can make you miss some important steps.
  • 4. Solve the smallest problems first

    It’s tempting to try to solve the main problem statement right away, but you have to start by solving the smallest problems you identified first. Work your way bottom up.
    Once you’ve gained some clarity thanks to analytical thinking, you’ll be tempted to jump back at solving the main problem statement. Instead, start solving the smallest problems first. If you got to the right level of depth, you’ll be able to implement solutions within a few days. Work through the problems at the same level of depth sequentially but look for patterns and be mindful of all solutions you can reuse within your problem tree. Keep track of your solutions and results.
  • 5. Integrate solutions into the main answer

    As you work your way through solving smaller problems, these solutions will get you closer to solving the main problem statement. The timeline of your work should be dictated by the main problem statement, and you should always check that your solutions are aligned.
    When you begin to start solving smaller problems, make sure that you plan and schedule your work to fit the main problem statement timeline. For example, we wanted to fix profitability within a year – so naturally we have to work our way from left to right and from bottom to top in our problem tree within this timeframe. When you work through the problem statement this way, make sure you check that a solution to one problem doesn’t cause an issue somewhere else, or that it doesn’t derail your work and attempts in another region of the tree.

Week 3

Tools

Now that you know the idea and the principles behind it, it’s time to look at the tools that can support you in the implementation of the thinking style in your own approach. This is where you get down to the tactical level and start planning your implementation!

I’m introducing you to a range of different tools, from mental models and thought experiments, to software and apps that can support a given thinking style. You’ll need to read more about these tools and experiment with them to find what works best for you.

5 whys

01

A great technique to get to the bottom of the problem: conduct the so-called root analysis. You really just ask why five times to uncover the root of the problem.

Fishbone

02

The fishbone diagram helps you split out various causes that lead to the problematic effect in an organised way that categorises the causes.

Issue diagram

03

Probably the best tool to break down a problem, identify issues and formulate hypothesis to solve the sub-issues, before resolving the main problem.

Cost benefit

04

When faced with choices, cost benefit analysis comes in incredibly handy in analytical thinking: analyse options and choose the best.

Benchmark

05

Benchmarking allows you to compare various alternatives against the best case scenario in specific categories that matter - ideal tool for analytical decisions.

Relations

06

A relations diagram is a great way to organise issues that make up a problem. You get a fuller picture of the problem and can tackle component issues first.

WEEK 4

Application

This is where we get hands-on! I’m taking the lead to show you how I applied the thinking style, principles and tools in the main areas of my life, and I encourage you to join this exercise and share your own approach.

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