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19 Apr '13

The art of Grey Thinking

Posted by T.J. Addington in critical thinking, thinking, thinking grey

Contrarian thinking often simply means that we think grey on issues until we must make a decision. Grey thinking is the practice of soliciting as much input on a situation as possible, allowing those options to marinate in our minds and not making a final decision until it is necessary to do so. In the process, we often realize that there is an out of the box combination solution that is far better than any one of the proposed solutions by themselves.

Some people think it is a skill to make quick decisions and they pride themselves in their ability to do so. The truth is that slow decisions that have had significant input from a variety of sources is usually far better than a rapid one. In fact, wise leaders always bring the best thinking to the table including disparate viewpoints in the process of seeking the very best solution.

Outside my office is another room that used to be occupied by my executive assistant. Today is has a table, four chairs and white boards on two walls. I use that office far more than my actual office with a desk because this is the “think room” where together with colleagues I tackle complex issues in one of our many white board sessions. It is frequent in a conversation with colleagues that someone will say – “We need a white board session on that!”

Out of those sessions have come all kinds of unique ideas and solutions that were far better than any one of us could have crafted. There is no such thing as an all wise “sage” who invariably makes the right move. The sages of our day are those leaders who are secure enough in their own leadership to invite many others to the table in order to find solutions that no one person could have found.

Having sought a variety of wise counsel, wise leaders will than mull on those ideas, always asking the question, “Is there a solution that is different from a conventional solution that would allow us to move forward in a leveraged position.” And, they will often wait until the decision must be made to give themselves as much time as possible to consider alternatives. This is not decision avoidance: Rather, it is getting the right input and giving the right time to come up with a solution that is unconventional and better than what might have been decided earlier.

I will often tell my colleagues that I am thinking grey on an issue. They know that as long as I am thinking grey, they can dialogue with me on it. Of course, I rarely make a decision alone anyway – they are part of the equation. Grey thinking gives all of us the opportunity to continue to look for a unique solution. Remember, conventional wisdom is always conventional but it is rarely wisdom.