Types of Thinkers

You have to do much more now to get into a top school like Yale or West Point, and you have to start a lot earlier. … I sat on the Yale College admissions committee a couple of years ago. … It turned out that a student who had six or seven extracurriculars was already in trouble. Because the students who got in—in addition to perfect grades and top scores—usually had 10 or 12. ….

People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to. But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea. … The head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all. Just the ability to keep the routine going. … Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. …

You will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader. … For too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. …

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. … Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets. (more)

It is tempting to agree that our organizations are inefficient because they systematically fail to reward the right sort of thinking.  After all, the author of the above and I fancy ourselves as this other neglected but superior sort of thinker.  But while there are indeed many sorts of thinkers, this author offers no evidence that the currently rewarded mix is actually the wrong mix. (And it is a bad sign that it doesn’t seem to occur to him to look for such evidence.)

Routine-preserving conformists may not look as impressive to the eyes of foragers, to Versailles courtiers, or to me.  But they may still be what our world most needs, and so most rewards. See also the overlapping debate on if multitasking is vital or vile.

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