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How thinking helps you excel

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One of the biggest questions I have struggled with is how much time should I spend thinking instead of doing? That was after reading the great American investor, Warren Buffett’s view on the subject in an interview, who said thinking helps you to achieve more.

In my life and times with my great friend, Oludele Ologunde, an omnivorous reader, I learned that without doing, you would never achieve anything. Another aphorism says the man who can think will always be the master of the man who can do. Yet, another says without thinking things through, you might end up doing the wrong things.

However, thinking by itself is worthless without action. But if you act without thinking, you might probably end up in jail. This is why this topic is very important. But sadly, most of us never even consider living by thinking or doing ratio. For me, I live by the 80/20 ratio. That means I live by the Pareto Principle, formulated by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an Italian economist.

The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule; the law of the vital few, which states that for many events, 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes. Which is why most things in life are not distributed evenly.

Which is why you yourself should create your own ratio. The most respected individuals of our time, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, two investors who are celebrated for their good decisions and thinking processes have thinking ratio, are not only thinkers, they are also successful practitioners.

It is well known that Buffett reads at least five hours a day, he reads newspapers, periodicals and books. From the outside, reading is inactivity and looks like you are not doing anything. The Western society is biased towards doing. That is why often, people ask you, ‘what are you doing?’ 
 
My belief is that the thinking/doing ratio in most organisations and governments in Nigeria is something like 10/90; hence the country is gravitating towards the failed state. Nothing works because we spend far more time doing than thinking. If we take a lesson from Buffett and Munger’s books, we would know that that is not an effective ratio.

According to Peter Bevelin, author of Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Buffett and Munger have a habit of committing far more time to learning and thinking than to doing. It means these champions have over 80/20 thinking/doing ratios. It is not for nothing that Buffett is the greatest investor in the world.

   
Should we all spend over 80 per cent of our time thinking? This depends on both your nature and your work. The amount of thinking you need depends on your work. Buffett makes few decisions, but when he does, he makes huge profits and large bets. But most of us need more execution, making calls, writing emails and attending meetings.

Writing 500 books in 42 years, Isaac Asimov is considered the most prolific writer of the 21st Century. His first book, Pebble in the sky, was published in 1950. By the time he passed on in 1992, he had written about 500 books, an impressive bibliography.

That comes down to about a book per month, meaning a lot of doing with very little inactivity when he cranked out one book after the other. It looked like Asimov’s ratio was 100 per cent doing. He was probably thinking and doing at the same time. Most of us are not like that. That means you must choose and be decisive where you belong.

Outliers like Asimov do not represent reality, but we can learn from them. Buffett wouldn’t be this famous if he didn’t make big bets and Asimov couldn’t write 500 books without committing to writing everyday. The two men lived different lives, but were decisive in their actions. Decisiveness unified them.

In farming out a personal ratio, it is the quality of your thinking that matters, not the amount allotted to thinking. Your effectiveness resides in your being decisive. For me, my ratio is 30/70 rule of effective thinking. I believe for most professionals of today, that ratio of 20 per cent thinking versus 80 per cent doing is sufficient.

Though I am a natural thinker, I always remind myself to execute more than I think, because what you do is what the world can see.

It is in the process of putting down your thoughts that we know you exist, that you are not a robot. The quality of your thinking impacts the outcome you achieve. When you take time to think things through, you avoid poor outcomes. Ultimately, you achieve your goals by taking decisive actions and sticking to them. That’s why the 20/80 ratio would save you time, money and worry.


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