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Main Content

Strengthening Your Quick Thinking Ability

If you're a quick thinker, you pick up new information and ideas easily and "process" that information swiftly.

For example, a colleague gives you a business plan or proposal to review, and by skimming the document, you're able to rapidly extract the essential issues and questions at hand.

Similarly, when reading a case in business school, you could pull out the relevant information promptly. You weren't distracted by or bogged down in facts and figures that may be interesting but that aren't relevant to the core issue.

Or perhaps you've just given a presentation, and members of your audience ask probing questions afterward or disagree with some of your ideas. You quickly weigh their input and respond with appropriate answers.

Clearly, quick thinking is a valuable ability in a world where the pace of change continues to accelerate. How can you develop this key skill? Consider these suggestions:

  • Read a book on the subject. Potential useful titles include Quick Thinking on Your Feet by Valerie Pierce, Quick Wits: A Compendium of Critical Thinking Skills Activities by Marlene Caroselli, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

  • Take an online learning course on the subject. Examples include the "General Thinking Skills" modules offered through Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as particularly good at thinking quickly. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop or course on the subject. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Practice "speed thinking." Whenever you're mulling over a proposal or other situation in which you have to evaluate a lot of information, work to cut to the heart of a matter. Try not to be distracted by or bogged down in facts and figures that aren't relevant to the issue at hand. Force yourself to quickly zero in on the key issues and to draw conclusions about what should be done — even if you feel you need more time. Then jot your ideas down on paper. Next, reevaluate the situation at your usual pace, and see if you arrived at similar ideas this time around. Once you get better at this, try to go even faster.

  • Remember Pareto's Principle (also known as the "80-20 rule"). This rule says that in anything, a few (20%) of the people, facts, analyses, etc. involved are vital, and many more (80%) are irrelevant. As you consider new ideas, discipline yourself to look for the few gold nuggets and to sort them out from the sand and gravel, then draw your conclusions without sifting through the remaining 80%.

  • Practice "thinking on your feet." Create a short presentation on a topic that interests you , then practice delivering your talk to a trusted friend or colleague. Ask your "audience" to push you by posing questions and challenging your facts or ideas. Don't worry about messing up — the idea is to practice these skills in a safe environment and get more comfortable, not to act perfectly.

  • Join a public-speaking club. Some people are afraid that they'll get flustered and lose their train of thought in situations where they have to think on their feet. To overcome this fear, consider joining Toastmasters International, a network of public-speaking clubs that offer excellent opportunities to practice thinking on your feet and responding quickly.

Strengthening your ability to think quickly takes practice — especially if you have a slower, more deliberate cognitive style. But the above suggestions can be an excellent starting point for enhancing this important skill.