How business owners can think differently to get better results

Do you ever find yourself buried deep in a project, overwhelmed by the details, and not knowing where to go next? Or other times, when you are working with a team, do you walk away feeling like it was 3 parts drama and 1 part progress? David Rock thinks he can solve both of those problems with more focused thinking.

how to think differently

In his book Quiet Leadership, Rock outlines five levels of thinking:

  1. Vision thinking: Thinking about the why. What outcomes and goals are you looking for?
  2. Planning: Outlining the big steps you need to take to get to those goals.
  3. Detail thinking: Looking specifically at what steps you need to take, in what order, with what tools. What information and people do you need in order to reach your goal?
  4. Problem Solving: Now that you are into the project, things aren’t going as planned. What resources do you need to overcome these obstacles?
  5. Drama thinking: Getting caught up in all the obstacles, and how everyone feels about them (and each other)? You’re stuck in Drama Thinking (and you need to get out of it)!

These levels of thinking are arranged from the most highly leveraged (more progress per minute) to the least leveraged. Rock recommends that you always start at the top of the list and work your way down.

So you’re buried deep in a project, you are overwhelmed with the details and your next step isn’t clear. Start with Vision — why are you doing this? What are you trying to accomplish? Once that’s clear, work on a plan, what are the phases, or big steps that you need to complete in order to get you there? Now, the details will make more sense…

Working with a team that’s all Drama and no progress? Here you really need to get clear on the goal, and stick to it! Why are we working together as a team? What are we trying to accomplish (that’s more important than all the drama)? With the outcome clear, start planning, then work through the details. Staying focused on the more highly leveraged thinking means that you won’t get caught up in the unproductive drama; you can keep your team more focused and productive instead.

What happens when a team member comes to you and they are “stuck”? They start rattling off all the details of all the challenges they are facing. (This could take a while!) Instead of sitting through all the details (and likely getting lost in them too) you could respond, “I’d like to be a useful sounding board for you. How can I best help you without getting into the details?” Keeping your conversation focused, again, on the Vision and Planning, will likely get you further as you reign in the discussion (and your team member’s thinking) to identify what they really need.

What do you think? Is this a useful framework for working with your team members? Could it help you, and your team, to stay more focused and productive? We want to hear about it!

Photo credit:  wadem

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.
When not working Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • Dina Lynch Eisenberg

    What powerful advice, Brad. Asking people to shift their thinking is something I do as a small business mediator.

    I love your suggestion for what to do when stuck with a drama thinker. I’ve used that technique with small companies, 2-3 people, that were troubled by challenges are hard decisions.

    It re-focuses the conversation away from the granular level (where we all get a little stubborn) back to the big picture where typically there’s more flexibility and agreement. It also helps to distance the inevitable high emotions from the conversation until there’s time to properly and safely explore them.

    You know brain science reports that we, as humans, make the assumption that others think as we do. I love that this article recognizes that there are different styles of thinking that can be used strategically to enhance your work. Bravo!

  • Brad Farris


    Thanks! Though I’ve done similar things for a while, David’s thinking really crystalized for me *why* it works and made me think to do it more consciously. It can be really powerful and it sure beats spending hour after hour mired in drama!