“Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But unlike other skills, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”Richards J. Heuer Jr, a former veteran of the CIA
If you want to become a good analytical thinker, there’s no amount of reading you can do that will be enough – you have to engage in continuous, deliberate practice. This thinking style can only be developed if you do it – and I challenge you to do it in 5 days!
I collected and tried some of the best ways to improve your analytical thinking skills, and I recommend you work on them one day each. Of course, you’ll want to repeat these five days of analytical thinking to get better and better. First, start with half an hour a day, and in the next week increase it to an hour, and so on. Over a few weeks, you’ll develop great analytical capabilities. This approach can be particularly helpful if you’re preparing for a task (or a job interview!) that will draw on your analytical thinking skills. Otherwise, if you just want to get better in this thinking style, a couple of weeks will already show a lot of improvement.
Day 1: Learn how things work… and why
One of the best practises to get better as an analytical thinker is to constantly investigate how things work, and why. It doesn’t really matter what you’re trying to understand, it can be the first thing you look at. What is this thing? How can you describe it? What are its components? How do these components work together? What makes them work? What is the reason for this thing to exist? What does it do? Why is it the way it is? Ask these questions throughout the day, on a regular basis, when you’re consciously developing as an analytical thinker. You’ll see that just asking questions will yield some interesting observations.
Day 2: Use analytical thinking tools with a sparring partner
Now that you know six most powerful tools to use, team up with someone you can work with on them together. Find a problem that interests both of you and challenge yourselves to approach it analytically. Did you use the same tool, or a different one? How can you explain your choices? If you used a different tool, how do the results compare? If you used the same tool, did you go through a similar thinking process? Did you arrive at similar results? Why, why not? Working through the same problem with a thinking partner can be an extremely insightful exercise that not only helps you externalise how you think to others, but it also shows how every individual’s thinking is different. This in itself is a valuable analytical thinking lesson.
Day 3: Solve problems for fun
Whenever you see a problem to be solved, jump at the opportunity! Something I tried myself was to tell my friends and close colleagues that for a day, I’ll help them solve their problems, all they need to do is to tell me what they’re struggling with and I’ll approach it with analytical thinking. It was a good way of practising, but with real problems. Seeing the impact of analytical thinking in real world can be very powerful. Especially if you have some big problems around, don’t hesitate – sometimes offering your analytical skills can be the most helpful thing for another person or organisation.
Day 4: Write and diagram on paper
One of the biggest discoveries for me when I started looking more seriously into becoming a better thinker was… pen and paper. I realised that working through all the thoughts and problems and potential solutions in my mind wasn’t nearly as good as writing them down. Using analytical thinking tools is also far more effective when you diagram on paper, rather than just thinking through them, or even worse – trying to do them on a computer (it gets too fiddly and constraining, it’s not worth your time). In order to develop as an analytical thinker, always have something to write with to hand and just jot things down. You’ll see the difference it makes to thinking very quickly.
Day 5: Play brain teasers
A few years ago, I had a good habit of playing brain teasers whenever I was commuting. I downloaded a few apps and used other online resources to work through all sorts of puzzles, from simple mathematical tasks to the famous Einstein’s riddle, to the riddles in the dark (kudos if you get the reference). This is an excellent exercise to keep your analytical thinking fresh and develop these skills, as most of these brain teasers require you to think analytically to solve them. And most of them get much easier once you write things down (see above!). I do recommend getting into the habit of working through some brain teasers on a regular basis. And if you’re competitive, challenge a partner to a few!
Now, if you’re reading this, you probably have your favourite brain teasers. Let me know what they are, I’m always looking for new additions!If you’d like to learn more, subscribe to Lessons in Thinkfulness and receive free, weekly lessons designed to help you become more thinkful at work, in business and in life.