Book Summary: Think Better by Tim Hurson


George Bernard Shaw once said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation; you imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.”

This book will not only give you the connection between imagination and creation, it also shows you how to imagine in the right way. We are living in an economy like the world has never seen before. Outsourcing, once a hot topic is now business as usual, but as Tim Hurson points out, the thinking capacity of an organization can’t be effectively outsourced. What follows are the six steps to thinking more productively, but first the 3 things standing in your way of getting that done.

Why is Productive Thinking So Hard?

A female with question marks and lightbulb on top of her head with a thinking face. This shows that coming up with an idea in a productive manner isn't easy.

Productive thinking is hard to do because we simply aren’t wired for it. In fact, there are 3 specific ways that the human condition fights against you in your pursued creation.

First, you have what Hurson calls a monkey brain. You are hard-wired to pay attention to distractions. Maybe this summary is a distraction for you. You probably haven’t paid close attention to every word I have said so far, that’s the monkey brain in action. You’ve got one.

Second, you’ve also got a gator brain. It’s similar to what Seth Godin would call the lizard brain. It’s the part of the brain that is in charge of your instincts. It governs our daily lives more than we can ever imagine.

Most things you do, you react first with your gator brain and then develop emotional responses second and then think last. We tend to believe that these sequences happen in reverse.

This has some serious implications for how well we imagine a new future.

Lastly, human beings are far more skilled at following old patterns than at thinking new thoughts. What this essentially means is that we are typically going to create the future based on what we know about the past.

It’s a pretty practical part of the human race and allows us to deal with the unending complexity of our world. Do this thought, experiment with me, and see how much your life is based on patterns.

Consider the simple act of getting dressed in the morning. If you wear an average of ten items, there are exactly 3,628,800 different sequences on how you put on those ten items.

Even after you eliminate the nonsensical choices like putting your socks on your shoes, you’re still left with over 15,000 combinations to choose from. But you don’t choose at all, do you??

In fact, I bet that you wear these clothes the exact same way every day. Now examine the rest of your life for similar patterns. We are creatures of habit and that greatly inhibits the creative process.

So here is the process for breaking out of those patterns.

Step #1: What’s Going On?

A male individual sitting with a stressed face and paper scattered everywhere. Start with defining the problem, what is the problem? What is going on?

Most people dive right for the answers and that’s a mistake. In fact, generating answers doesn’t show up until the 4th step. The first thing you need to think about is defining the problem.

First, you need to define the itch. What needs to change? Usually, we get together to use productive thinking because we want the future to turn out differently than where it’s heading at the moment.

So, list all the things you would change if you could change them. Don’t analyze them, just list them. Now, cluster them together in a theme so that a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve forms.

Second, you need to determine the impact that those itches are going to have, and you do this by asking more questions.

For instance, what concerns you about the situation. Is it a priority to fix it? If so, why? How do you feel about the itches? What else makes you feel this way?

The goal here is to create clarity about what the undesired state means for you and your business.

Third, you need to gather all the information that you have about the issue at hand. We use a simple tool called Know Wonder for this step. Take a sheet of paper and put know on one side and wonder on the other.

On the know side list everything you know about the issue, leave nothing out. On the wonder, side lists everything you wish you knew about the issue.

Fourth, you need to determine who is involved in the issue. How you see the issue depends on who you are in your point of view. Of course, the issue is going to be very different for a CEO and a front-line worker.

Lastly, you need to determine what the vision is. This is what Hurson calls the target future. Knowing where you want to go is crucial to how you generate the solutions.

Step #2: What’s Success?

3 individuals in glee as they are carrying a trophy. You will have to imagine what your success is in detail and write it down. What do you want the final goal to be? How does it look like?

Determining success includes 2 sub-steps.

First, you need to robustly imagine an ideal future where your issue is resolved. This is all about creating a future that you will do anything to create.

Imagine the specifics, how will your day start, what will you do throughout the day, how do you feel about your life? Don’t just wonder, write these things down.

Second, using the tool Hurson calls Drive, you’ll list success criteria for the solution. Where D = do, R = restrictions, I = investment, V = values and E = essential outcomes.

In essence, you need to determine what you want your eventual solution to achieve, what changes or impact you must avoid, what resources you’re willing to allocate, what values that must guide you in implementing the solution, and what are the non-negotiable elements of success.

The goal here is to make the future you try to create as vivid as possible. Why do we need to do that? Because we are not very good at getting emotionally invested in the abstract but brilliant at putting ourselves in things that are very specific and concrete.

Step #3: What’s The Question?

A male with many question marks on top of his head. This shows that, to find the answer we need to ask the right question in the right way.

Now we are not ready to start generating answers yet. In fact, we haven’t even asked the right question. As Hurson explains, how we articulate the question we are trying to answer has an enormous impact on the answers.

History is littered with stories that highlight the old adage great answer, wrong question. Here is how to prevent this terrible fate from happening to you.

First, ask the question in as many different ways as you can imagine. Remember even one word can mean a difference between spectacular success and dismal failure.

Once we have the list, we are ready to use the C to the 5th method of converging on the question.

Here are the five C’s.

Number 1 is call. We need to review the list and separate out the questions that are really potential answers in disguise. For instance, how I might use the South beach diet is an answer in disguise.

Second, we got to cluster, group similar questions together, discard only those that are exact duplicates.

Third, we are going to combine. If you notice large clusters emerging, you can combine individual questions into a more comprehensive single question.

Fourth, we are going to clarify. Clarifying what issue each cluster is really getting at, you can see that there are even more opportunities to combine multiple questions into one.

Lastly, we are going to choose. You need to decide which question you’re going to ask. You should decide which one you really want to work on by looking at all the work you have done up until this point.

Time to pull the trigger and start looking for answers.

Step #4: Generate Answers

3 individuals brainstorming as they reach a lightbulb moment. This show that we need to 'puke' out all the ideas, even the impractical ones. From there, use the 5Cs to filter.

As Hurson says in this step, your aim is to look for lots of ideas.

Practical ideas, wacky ideas, controversial ideas, impossible ideas, disrespectful ideas, unaffordable ideas, ideas born of dreams, ideas born of stress, ideas born of ignorance, ideas from other fields, ideas that are guaranteed to fail, ideas that open doors, a combination of new ideas, ideas that come from unexpected connections, so that you can test and select the best ones.

Here is how to do it. First, list out the possible answers to the question. The first crack at it will probably surface all the unoriginal answers, all the things that have logical roots to take.

This will probably not show the truly original answer that you are looking for. In fact, you can almost guarantee it. The key to thinking creatively at this point is to expand beyond what you already know.

In particular, you want to put yourself in another person's shoes and create constraints or lack of constraints that take you in a new direction.

Start asking yourself other questions, like how might my customer answer the question, how might my boss answer, how might my best friend answer it, how might a child answer it?

What if you had only 10 minutes to solve the problem, what if you had unlimited time, what if you had unlimited funds, what could you do if you couldn’t fail?

Now that you have generated a nice long list of potential answers, you are going to do the 5 C calling process again, paring it down to 3 to 6 potential solutions.

Step #5: Forge The Solution

1 male carrying a piece of the puzzle and 1 female climbing a ladder as they fit the lightbulb puzzle to create a powerful and effective solution to the problem.

In this stage, we are going to take all the potential solutions and run them through an exercise called power. This is where:

P = positive, what’s good about the idea and why it might succeed.

O = objection, what are the ideas' flaws and why they might fail.

W = what else, what else may be in the idea that we might haven’t articulated yet.

E = enhancement, how might the positives be made even stronger and

R = remedies, how might the objections be overcome.

By the end of this process, the ideas are transformed into something completely different and more effective than when you started the step. It will be like the difference between Clark Kent and Superman.

Finally, wrap up the section by writing up a paragraph or two about the idea that explains, in vivid detail, what you are going to do. This stage is simple but, pardon the pun, very powerful.

Step #6: Align Resources

A male person taking note what resources are needed to achieve the main goal. Resources include: funds, expertise, energy, and conditions that may happen.

Lastly, we are going to take the solution and make it a reality, which is often harder than most people realize. You want to identify your potential assisters and resistors and make plans to engage heavily with them throughout the process.

It may not be much fun to continuously have a dialogue with people who want to see you fail, but it is less painful than actually failing. In addition, of course, you’ve painted a future that you’re really not that excited about.

Then it’s time to take a nice long look in the mirror and get real about what it is going to take to get this thing done.

For this step, we are going to use a tool called the effect.

Energy, what level of energy we will need to complete each step?

Funds, how much money do we need for each step? Free time, how much time do we need for each step?

Expertise, what type of knowledge do we need for each step?

Conditions, what external conditions need to be in place for each step to be completed, and what non-monetary resources we will need in order to get each step done?


It’s time to take your thinking capacity back. In this post, we shared six steps you can follow to get started on the path of productive thinking and, in-turn, create more for yourself and others around you. What are some areas where these principles could be applied? How would it change what you do or how you think about things? Let us know! We're happy to help with any questions that come up along the way and make sure that when you start down this new road, there's no turning back.

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