Chapter 1 The Types of Thinking – Strategic Thinking and Writing


The Types of Thinking

The Definition of Thinking

Before we delve into the art of strategic business writing—and make no mistake about it, writing in any form is an art—we must first become familiar with thinking. In a May 25, 1946 New York Times article, Albert Einstein noted that “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” A common, modern corruption of his quote, “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it,” fills the search engine results when searching for a quote on thinking. Nevertheless, if you wish to move to the next level of your personal or professional development, learning how to think, plan, and write strategically remains a prerequisite. Thinking strategically requires one to set aside time to think hard, to consider new ideas, and to practice writing in order to present a clear, concise, and compelling story. How much time do you spend in thinking about how you think? Are you aware of how you process thoughts?

Is thinking solely a prerogative of humans? Not according to the latest research. Most scientists now feel they can say with confidence that some animals process information and express emotions in ways that are accompanied by conscious mental experience. An article in the March 14, 2017 edition of The Economist noted: “No animals have all the attributes of human minds; but almost all the attributes of human minds are found in some animal or other.” In short, thinking is important; spend time thinking about it.

Let’s begin our inquiry into the preparation for strategic business writing by understanding the various definitions associated with the words thinking or think. Lacking a clear definition of the words used presents a significant barrier to communication, education, and understanding. Before you begin any strategic business writing assignment, define the key words used in order to prevent any misunderstanding.

Thinking can be classified as both a noun and an adjective, while think can be defined as a verb.

Noun (thinking)

The process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something.

A person’s ideas or opinions.

Adjective (thinking)

Using thought or rational judgment; intelligent.

Verb (think)

Have a particular opinion, belief, or idea about someone or something.

Direct one’s mind toward someone or something; use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas.

Take into account or consideration when deciding on a possible action.

Consider the possibility or advantages of (a course of action).

Have a particular mental attitude or approach.

Have a particular opinion of.

Call something to mind; remember.

Imagine (an actual or possible situation).


Concentrate on imagining what it would be like to be in (a position or role).

Thinking is hard work. Thinking about thinking is even more difficult. If you want to think and write strategically, however, you will need to learn to recognize what you are thinking about as well as how you think. Are you committed? Are you willing to put the time and energy into learning how to be a strategic thinker and writer? If you are, remember the words of Thomas Edison as you move forward: “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” What percentage do you belong to?

Self-Awareness Check

How often do you spend time thinking about how you think?

Why do you believe it is so difficult for people to think about thinking?

How often do you remind yourself, or others, that “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it?” Does doing so help you change your thinking?

Knowledge Check

  1. Lacking a clear definition of words used presents a significant barrier to

a. Communication

b. Education

c. Understanding

d. All of the above

  2. If you wish to move to the next level of your personal or professional development, learning how to think strategically remains

a. Unnecessary

b. Avoidable

c. A prerequisite

d. None of the above

  3. Thinking, or think, can be classified as

a. A noun

b. An adjective

c. A preposition

d. Only a and b

  4. When used as a noun, thinking means

a. The process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something

b. A person’s ideas or opinions

c. Failing to make a decision

d. Both a and b

  5. When used as a verb, think means to

a. Have a particular opinion, belief, or idea about someone or something

b. Direct one’s mind toward someone or something; use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas

c. Take into account or consideration when deciding on a possible action

d. All of the above

The Different Types of Thinking

There are various types of thinking that allow you to adapt to specific situations. Understanding the spectrum of thinking will provide a greater depth to your strategic business writing. As you review examples of strategic business writing in your research and preparation, see if you can identify one or more of the definitions the author has used. Doing so will make your own writing better, as you can then apply the appropriate type of thinking for a given situation.

Abstract thinking refers to the ability to use concepts to make and understand generalizations and then relating or connecting them to other items, events, or experiences. Example: An abstract thinker would see a flag as a symbol of a country or organization. They may also see it as a symbol of liberty and freedom.

Analytical thinking refers to the ability to separate a whole into its basic parts in order to examine the parts and their relationships. It involves thinking in a logical, step-by-step manner to break down a larger system of information into its parts. Example: An analytical thinker may study a bicycle to determine how it works or what is wrong with it.

Concrete thinking refers to the ability to comprehend and apply factual knowledge. It involves thinking only on the surface, always literal, and to the point. Example: A concrete thinker will look at a flag and only see specific colors, markings, or symbols that appear on the cloth.

Convergent thinking refers to the ability to put a number of different pieces or perspectives of a topic together in some organized, logical manner to find a single answer. It involves focusing on a finite number of solutions rather than proposing multiple solutions. Example: The deductive reasoning that the Sherlock Holmes used in solving mysteries is a good example of convergent thinking. By gathering various bits of information, he was able to put the pieces of a puzzle together and come up with a logical answer to the question of “Who done it?”

Creative thinking refers to the ability to conceive new and innovative ideas by breaking away from established thoughts, theories, rules, and procedures. It involves putting things together in new and imaginative ways. Creative thinking is often referred to as “thinking outside the box.” Example: A creative thinker may look at a product and think of new ways to use it or suggest an innovative solution to a problem.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to exercise careful evaluation or judgment in order to determine the authenticity, accuracy, worth, validity, or value of something. In addition to precise, objective analysis, critical thinking involves synthesis, evaluation, reflection, and reconstruction. Example: A triage nurse who analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order in which the patients should be treated is practicing critical thinking.

Divergent thinking refers to the ability to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions in an effort to find one that works. It involves bringing facts and data together from various sources and then applying logic and knowledge to solve problems or make decisions. Example: Divergent thinking is similar to brainstorming in that it involves coming up with many different ideas to solve a single problem. Unlike convergent thinking, there is no one right answer in divergent thinking.

Holistic (nonlinear) thinking refers to the ability to see the big picture and recognize the interconnectedness of various components that form the larger system. It involves expanding your thought processes in multiple directions, rather than in just one direction, and understanding a system by sensing its patterns. Example: Allowing a puppy to run free and explore the world as much as possible.

Sequential (linear) thinking refers to the ability to process information in orderly prescribed manner. It involves a step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be obtained before another step is taken. Example: Teaching the puppy a number of tasks in a specific order, ensuring it learns A before B, and B before C, and so on.

Examples of Each Type of Thinking

Can you find at least one example of each type of thinking and explain it in a sentence or two?

Abstract thinking:

Analytical thinking:

Concrete thinking:

Convergent thinking:

Creative thinking:

Critical thinking:

Divergent Thinking:

Holistic (nonlinear) thinking:

Sequential (linear) thinking:

A Note on Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a valuable skill for most jobs these days. This is especially true for recent college graduates. Unfortunately, no one clear definition is used to explain critical thinking. As Melissa Korn wrote in a Wall Street Journal article: “Employers complain that colleges are not producing graduates who can solve problems and connect the dots on complex issues, but bosses stumble when pressed to describe exactly what skills make critical thinkers. That leaves job seekers wondering what employers really want and, once on the job, unsure of whether they’re supposed to follow the rules or break them.”1 As one employment recruiter noted: “Critical thinking is one of those words where everyone talks about it but there are 50 different ways to define it.” Here are three common definitions of critical thinking Korn identified 2:

“The ability to cross-examine evidence and logical argument. To sift through all the noise.”

Richard Arum, sociology professor, New York University

“Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”

Linda Elder, educational psychologist; president, Foundation for Critical Thinking

“Do they make use of information that’s available in their journey to arrive at a conclusion or decision? How do they make use of that?”

Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting, Goldman Sachs Group

For their part, students seem to think they are ready for the workplace. But their future bosses tend to disagree. In 2013, Harris Interactive conducted a survey of 2,001 college students and 1,000 hiring managers on problem-solving preparedness and found 69% of the students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.3 Judy Nagengast, CEO of Continental Inc., an Anderson, Ind. staffing firm, says she has come across young graduates who “can memorize and they can regurgitate,” but struggle to turn book learning into problem solving at work.4

With that in mind, it is no surprise to learn that employers are leaving positions unfilled because they are unable to identify qualified candidates. Sarah E. Needleman of the Wall Street Journal reported that a recent survey found that “one-third of 848 small-business owners and chief executives said they had unfilled job openings in June 2014 because they couldn’t identify qualified applicants.”5 Don’t assume because an organization has an employment opportunity the employer will hire someone to fill the position. You need to market your value and demonstrate why the organization should hire you. Now that you are aware of just how important critical thinking is for employers, be sure to include an example or two of how you solved a problem using your critical thinking skills in the past.

Self-Awareness Check

What are the top three types of thinking you find yourself using? Why are these your top three?

What experiences, people, or events have impacted your ability to think?

Why is the definition of critical thinking so ambiguous?

Knowledge Check

  1. Thinking in order to separate a whole into its basic parts

a. Abstract thinking

b. Creative thinking

c. Analytical thinking

d. None of the above

  2. Thinking that involves focusing on a finite number of solutions

a. Convergent thinking

b. Creative thinking

c. Divergent thinking

d. Critical thinking

  3. Thinking that pertains to careful evaluation or judgment

a. Convergent thinking

b. Creative thinking

c. Holistic (nonlinear) thinking

d. Critical thinking

  4. Thinking that refers to the ability to process information in an orderly prescribed manner

a. Convergent thinking

b. Creative thinking

c. Holistic (nonlinear) thinking

d. Sequential (linear) thinking

  5. Thinking that involves designing new and innovative ideas by breaking from established thoughts and going “outside of the box”

a. Convergent thinking

b. Creative thinking

c. Holistic (nonlinear) thinking

d. Critical thinking

Understanding How You Think

The adjacent pie chart illustrates three categories of knowledge:

things you realize you know – ex: you realize that while driving a car you stop at a red light

things you realize you don’t know – ex: when going in for heart surgery you realize you don’t know how to do that yourself

things you don’t realize you don’t know – there are no examples here, well, because, you don’t know what you don’t’ know.

Ex: I realized I knew the benefits of yoga but also realized I did not know how to practice yoga. I did not realize I did not know there were various forms of yoga to practice (exs: Ashtanga, Yin, and Vinyasa).

To understand what you know you must first examine how you think. For example, why do you know anything at all to be true? This is an important question to ask if you want to understand how you think. Let’s deconstruct the first category as a demonstration of identifying how you think. You realize you know that while driving a car you stop at a red light. How did this thought process come to rest in your mind? As with most knowledge we obtain there are three determinants that contribute to our awareness.


Who are the family members that influenced you?

Who are the teachers that left an impression on you?

Who are the co-workers that contributed to your life experience?

Who among your friends influenced you more than others?


What experiences have changed you as a person?

What experiences did you refuse to let change you as a person?

What experiences did you prevent yourself from having because you were afraid?

What experiences do you hope to have in the future?


How much time do you allocate for reflection on a daily or weekly basis?

How often do you reflect upon the lessons learned regarding a specific experience?

Do often do you discuss and reflect with the support of others?

How do you feel during reflection? What emotions often arise?

You realize you know that while driving a car you stop at a red light because a) your mother taught you how to drive; b) you experienced stopping at a red light while driving with your driving instructor; and c) you were required to reflect on the need to stop at each red light you encountered.

Exercise: To better understand how you think about what you think about ask yourself how you think about the following quote from Jeff Foster “When there is fear, pain, confusion or sadness moving in you, do not despair or come to conclusions about yourself. Be honored that these misunderstood guests, at once both ancient and timeless, weary from a lifetime’s lonely travel have finally found their home in you. They are children of consciousness one and all, beloved children of yourself, deserving of the deepest respect and friendship. Offer them the deep rest of yourself, and let them warm their toes by your raging fire.” As you reflect on what you think about this statement, identify those people, experiences and emotions that contribute to your thinking. Doing so can help you better understand how you think.

Thinking Exercise #1: Connect the Nine Dots

Nine dots are arranged in a set of three rows. Your challenge is to draw four straight lines which go through the middle of all of the dots without taking the pencil or mouse pointer off the page. Start from any position and draw the lines one after the other. Each line starts where the last line finishes.

Try it a few times and then review the solution. Do not look at the answer until you have either given up or found a solution of your own. Do not give up too easily! The answer appears at the back of this publication.

How Did You Solve the Puzzle?

Think back to how you were solving the puzzle. Did you solve it by trial and error or did you think through a strategy? Spend a moment thinking about how you solved it and what changes in your thoughts were needed to get you there. The beauty of this nine-dot puzzle is that you literally have to “think out of the box” to solve the puzzle. Your pencil or mouse must go outside the box of the dots. There is no other strategy to use.

The most frequent difficulty people have with this puzzle is that they try to draw all the lines within the dots and they do not initially want to draw lines outside of them because:

  1. There is nothing outside the set of dots to associate to. There are no dots to join a line outside the puzzle so they assume a boundary exists.

  2. It is assumed that doing this is outside the scope of the problem, even though the problem definition does not say that you are not allowed to do so.

  3. You are so close to doing it that you keep trying the same way but harder.

Lessons to Be Learned from This Puzzle

Look beyond the current definition of the problem.

Analyze the definition to find out what is allowed and what is not.

Are there any real rules to the problem anyway? (An especially valid point in human-related problems—there are only perceptions, not physical rules.)

Look for other definitions of problems.

Do not accept other people’s definitions of problems. They may be either wrong or biased.

If a problem definition is wrong, no amount of solutions will solve the real problem.

Investigate the Boundaries

What are the boundaries which the solution must fit into?

Are the boundaries your own perceptions or the reality?

What are the possibilities if you push the boundaries?

What are the benefits of small boundary changes?

Hard Work Is Not (Always) the Solution

Repeating the same wrong process again and again with more vigor does not work.

You can be very close to a solution while not getting any closer to reaching it.

Thought is the solution; physical hard work will not work.

1M. Korn. October, 2014. “Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?” The Wall Street Journal., (date accessed July 10, 2018).


3S. Cole. October, 2014. “Employers Want ‘Critical Thinkers,’ But Do They Know What It Means?” Fast Company., (date accessed June 20, 2018).


5S. E. Neddleman. July, 2014. “Skills Shortage Means Many Jobs Go Unfilled,” The Wall Street Journal., (date accessed May 2, 2018).