In this article you’ll learn: what thinking styles are, why they are important, what we know about them, the 5 common thinking styles, why thoughts are important in every aspect of life, and why it’s the thoughts—not the style—that counts.
What’s a Thinking Style?
As the name suggests, thinking styles are styles in which we think. Everyone has their own, unique thinking style (which is a combination of several different thinking patterns). Thinking styles are influenced by individual personality traits.
Think of thought styles like a fashion style… but with thoughts and not clothes.
We could say that thinking styles are like fingerprints, and that’s probably true. Even if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be any way to tell. Because if two people actually had the same exact thinking style it would be impossible to measure.
Why We Should Learn About Thinking Styles
Our individual thinking style is important because it explains how we perceive information. It also impacts how we solve problems, think about the world and our place in it. It explains how we form connections, how we plan for the future and influences how satisfied we are with life.
If we appreciate that other people have a different thinking style than our own we create the opportunity to find their differences as strengths instead of roadblocks. This is a necessary requirement for strong connections and innovation.
Learning about thinking styles can help us not only get a better understanding of who we are, it can help us get an idea of other ways to think. It gives us the opportunity to try out different styles to see if we generate a greater return. We may even learn that we’ve been doing it right all along and gain more confidence in our intuitive style.
Some thinking styles can be misinterpreted. For instance a creative thinker may be misinterpreted as being hostile when in their mind they are just questioning the status quo (gathering information). Understanding different thinking styles helps close the gaps and misunderstandings. It brings clarity and cut’s out a lot of noise.
Just like knowing someone’s “love language” helps in relationships, knowing their thinking style can help too. We often assume others see things the way we do, but they could be thinking about them entirely different. When we take that into consideration we learn to appreciate people for who they are instead of who we think they are.
What We Know About Thinking Styles
When I started researching thinking styles I figured I was going to get a concrete list of different thinking styles. A list that’s probably been around for centuries. One I was probably tested on in grade school and have since completely forgot.
I was surprised by what I found. Instead of a concrete list there were lists ranging from 3 to 7 styles. Some lists referenced “thinking types” while others referenced “thinking styles” or “thinking patterns”. And a query for “helpful thinking styles” generated results for “unhelpful thinking types.” At one point I had 26 tabs open.
Seriously, it’s easier for me to figure out and explain what the 5 love languages are than to tell you about different thinking styles.
Thinking Styles in a Book About Difficult Bosses
The articles that referenced 5 thinking styles all essentially said the same thing different ways. I found out the 5 styles were from a book published in 1995 called “Coping with Difficult Bosses” by Robert Bramson. Bramson’s thinking styles are the most common and the only constant in the articles I found.
If anything, what we need to realize from all of this is how little we know about how we think.
Bramson is an organizational psychologist who had a question and set out to answer it. (More info on Bramson here.) He wanted to know why intelligent managers made bad decisions. And after conducting thousands of interviews and years of research he came up with 5 thinking styles he wrote about in his book:
- Idealist – perfectionists and overachievers. They have a goal and set off to obtain it. Some may find idealists to be impractical while the idealist likely finds themselves wanting to create the perfect world. Think Steve Jobs.
- Analyst – those who focus on facts and concrete details to find the best solution. Analytical thinkers collect information and try to detect patterns in order to solve problems or generate helpful information.
- Pragmatist – those who deal with things sensibly for the best immediate outcome. They look at situations from a practical standpoint and search for the best solution for immediate payoff.
- Synthesists – commonly referred to as “creative thinkers” they like to question the status quo. Some may confuse this thinking style as being combative (as mentioned above).
- Realists – problem solvers who like to be challenged and solve complex issues. Some may think they are pessimists while they consider themselves acknowledging all aspects of life—even the not so favorable parts.
Thinking Isn’t Just for Work
The majority of articles (when I typed in the query term “thinking styles”) relate to productivity at work or with a team. One article had a scale that associates your thinking style with productivity. Being labeled a productive thinker lands you at $100 output to $1 input… whatever that means. (FYI, I know what it means, I just think it’s really stupid so I’m being polite.)
Not to mention, the 5 thinking styles that we have for reference came from a book about difficult bosses written by an organizational psychologist.
To me, this is absolutely infuriating.
In 2019 12 million U.S. adults had serious thoughts of suicide, 3.5 million U.S. adults made suicide plans and 1.4 million attempted suicide. (Ref)
In the previous paragraph there is one word that is more important than the others: thoughts.
Suicide is increasing at an alarming rate (it is now the 10th-leading cause of death (Ref)). And the thing that can help us, the thing that can help stop people from wanting to kill themselves and feeling depressed (focusing on their thoughts and creating helpful thinking styles) is being taken over by work. By production. Yet again reducing the human identity to a number relating to how much someone can produce.
Note: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. The above paragraph references my personal theory. While some theorize (and have been unable to prove for over 50 years) that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, I believe depression is largely a result of unhelpful thinking habits.
Why It’s the Thought That Counts
Knowing our unique thinking style is important because it helps us understand how we perceive situations. We can leverage parts of our style that benefits us, ditch the unhealthy parts and incorporate positive aspects of other styles (list of books on creative thinking here). However, knowing our thinking style isn’t going to do us much good if we aren’t also focused on our thoughts.
If we think we aren’t good enough or that we aren’t going to succeed, then no matter what the thinking style, we are likely not going to succeed. Similarly, if we’re subjected to and unaware of other people’s limiting beliefs we may succumb to outside negative thinking.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Thomas Edison
The most creative person in the world isn’t going to get much done if they stop and feel defeated after one failure. While reflecting on how we think our primary focus should be on our thoughts and what we think. A good place to start is by focusing on thoughts and shifting them so they are more productive.
Remember Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.
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