Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Think Better with Productive Thinking. Generate Insightful New Ideas and achieve Breakthrough Change With TenKaizen Thinking.

Reproductive Thinking is a way to refine what is known; it aims for efficiency.
Productive Thinking is a way to generate the new; it aims for insight.

Productive thinking is radically different.
Productive thinking is the kind of thinking that leads to new ideas and breakthrough change. In Wertheimer’s words, it is insightful thinking rather than historical thinking. Productive thinking is important for meeting the challenges of changing environments and marketplaces, for differentiating products or services, for envisioning and developing new insights and processes, and for achieving growth. On my other blog, I described reproductive thinking at its best as kaizen thinking. Japanese metaphor describe productive thinking as tenkaizen thinking. Tenkaizen is a composite word deriving from ten, meaning “law” or “tradition,” kai, meaning “change,” and zen, meaning “good.” In other words, you can interpret tenkaizen as “good revolution.” Tenkaizen turns things upside down. Rather than reproducing the old, it produces the new.

Productive, or tenkaizen, thinking changes not only what we do but how we see the world. It is a way of both coping with change and creating change.

The Elements of Productive Thinking
Productive thinking consists of two distinct thinking skills: creative thinking and critical thinking. The overarching principle of productive thinking is this: Creative thinking and critical thinking have to be separate. Our normal approach is not to separate these two skills; instead, we tend to overlap them.

By trying simultaneously to think creatively to generate ideas and think critically to judge ideas, you end up sabotaging any chance of success. It’s like trying to drive with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake: You won’t get anywhere, and you’ll probably burn something out in the process.

Creative thinking has three essential characteristics. First, it’s generative; in other words, its primary function is to make something out of nothing. For different people, idea generation takes different forms: daydreaming, blue-skying, what-iffing, making unusual connections, or just wondering. Regardless of how you go about generating them, new ideas are wispy at best. They are only partially formed, ephemeral. It takes only a moment to forget you even had them.

These fragile new ideas come into being because of the second characteristic of the creative thinking mode: It’s nonjudgmental. You cannot generate and judge at the same time. Your half-formed notions can’t survive the onslaught of your intellect. How often have you judged your ideas out of existence?

The third characteristic of creative thinking springs directly from the first two: It’s expansive. By generating ideas and letting them live by deferring judgment, you tend to get more ideas. Creative thinking, then, is generative, nonjudgmental, and expansive. In effect, when you’re thinking creatively, you’re making lists. Long lists.

Critical thinking is the yang to creative thinking’s yin. Like creative thinking, critical thinking has three essential characteristics, each one a counterpoint. First, critical thinking is analytic: It probes, questions, and tests. When you think critically, you look at things deeply, penetrate below the surface, and unwrap nuance. You seek to understand, look for order, and discover meaning. Second, critical thinking is judgmental. Its job is to help you determine whether ideas meet or do not meet criteria for success or even further consideration. Critical thinking allows you to compare ideas with predetermined standards. Third, critical thinking is selective. It narrows down the long lists of ideas generated by creative thinking, sifting and filtering them to produce a more manageable few. You use critical thinking to identify the best ideas for further development, to converge on those with the greatest potential for success. Critical thinking, then, is analytic, judgmental, and selective. In effect, when you are thinking critically, you are making choices.

Productive thinking separates creative thinking and critical thinking. It is a process of suspending judgment to generate long lists of ideas and then returning to those lists to make choices by judging the ideas against preestablished success criteria: making lists and making choices. the full productive thinking process involves six discrete phases, from exploring the need for new thinking to developing a plan for action. Each of these phases involves creative and critical thinking steps.

The productive thinking dynamic is the ongoing alternation between creative thinking and critical thinking. Imagine a kayak paddle.
One side stands for creative thinking, the other for critical thinking. If you always used the creative paddle, you’d go around in circles. If you always used the critical paddle, you’d go around in circles the other way. The key is to alternate between the two: creative, critical, creative, critical. That way you develop enormous forward momentum. That way you can achieve tenkaizen.



  1. Hi!
    thank you for your motivational post.
    love it.
    See you around.

  2. Dear Ku Tenk,

    I would very much appreciate your acknowledging my book as the source of the ideas you have posted here.


    Tim Hurson, author of Think Better


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