There are two types of thinking: logical and poetic. And we desperately need more poetry if we want to succeed doing our good work. Let me explain.
Poets (and artists and designers) do their best work when they think poetically. They reach into what appears to be nothing and bring back something helpful, beautiful, useful, unexpected, and valuable.
The bulk of our thinking is logical. Logical thinking, too, is valuable. With logical thinking, we can get things done. And, we can accomplish so much more of our good work if we bring in more poetry.
Logical thinking is
- reductive, and
It relies on distinguishing and labeling things, events, people, and concepts. “Oh, that is a sales activity. This is a marketing activity.” It gathers and processes facts. It also uses experience and best practices to build upon prior logical thinking. “”To avoid undue risk from currency fluctuations, international companies should purchase currency futures.” It works with and contributes to what’s known. One of it’s main tools is language. We see this in reading (this blog entry, for instance!), writing (this blog entry, again!), and the bulk of what seems to be happening between our ears.
This is all good. We need logical thinking. The problem is we seem to be addicted to it. And that means we’re missing the huge benefits of poetic thinking.
You see, logical thinking is limited by it’s nature; it only works with what’s already know. When we use logical thinking exclusively (or nearly exclusively), we will experience subtle or obvious signs of limitation in our work and lives. This is true for us as individuals and for our organizations. These signs include
- uncertainty, and
Poetic Thinking, a.k.a. the taste of a strawberry
***WARNING TO YOUR LOGIC****
The part of you that does logical thinking–your logical mind–is fairly well convinced that it has everything it needs, thank you very much, to successfully steer you through life.
And that’s okay, really.
Just so you know, the chances are great that it will resist or at least kick up a fuss as you consider what follows. The best thing to do is thank it for sharing its opinions, tell it everything is going to be okay, and kindly ask it to go wait in the hall until you’re done.
***END OF WARNING***
Oddly enough, poetic thinking includes logical thinking. To this, it adds everything else. (There, see? It just happened. Just ask it politely to calm down. Tell it you’ll be with it in just a second.)
“Hey, Mike. ‘Everything else’ seems to cover quite a lot,” you might say, “What do you mean by ‘everything else’?”
Well, I mean everything. But my logical mind likes to think of the realm of poetic thinking as covering at least these three areas:
- The unknown. As logical thinking focuses on the known, poetic thinking starts with the vast amount that’s unknown. Example: let’s look a the question, “How much will our business grow next year?” Logical thinking’s approach to this question gathers facts and looks back at what’s known. “We’ve grown on average X% each of the past 10 years and Y% in the past two years. The market looks moderately healthy based on current sales, government numbers, and expert projections. Therefore a reasonable growth percentage is Z%” Poetic thinking adds to what’s known by asking things like, “What are we missing? What’s possible? What would we like the future to bring?”
- Creativity i.e. anything that hasn’t been created yet. Logical thinking works with what is. Poetic thinking pulls from the unknown and creates something new that logical thinking can then use. Writers, likely including your favorite authors, will tell you they don’t know where their ideas or stories come from. They appear to tap something beyond what they know or can figure out. When people set out to find their or their organization’s SweetSpot, they are tapping into the place where the as-yet-uncreated–the unknown–is waiting. The “Eureka!” moment scientists experience when they discover the answer to a vexing problem illustrates this creativity. It also hints at how to “do” poetic thinking. More on this later.
- The Indescribable. You rely on poetic thinking more than you may be aware. All words, all language, are mere pointers to what they represent. The word “strawberry” is not a strawberry. And words are insufficient to fully and accurately describe anything. This is true for things we encounter day-to-day or for higher concepts like love, any experience, success, and humanity. Try to use words to describe the taste of a strawberry and you’ll see what I mean. Poetic thinking lets us be effective with the indescribable.
Ian Burgham, is a poet. Watching him write and read his poetry is the best, most concrete example I know of this type of thinking. He taps something mysterious. We all will do more of our good work as we learn to apply this thinking more deliberately.
Poetic Thinking: the Ultimate “How-To” Guide
Of course, that subhead is silly. By its nature, poetic thinking is too big, too unknown, too indescribable to capture and distill into an “ultimate guide.” That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t start using poetic thinking more deliberately. In fact, we can use some of our good ol’ logical thinking, in the form of a list, to get a handle on it.
I suggest starting by applying it right away to something practical. Here are steps you can take:
- Select something in your work, career, or organization where you right now experience any signs of limitation. (See above for a sample list.)
- Acknowledge that there is a possibility that this experience comes in whole or in part from the limitations of logical thinking.
- Ask yourself (or, in a group, ask yourselves), if you are willing to tap the unknown, to use poetic thinking to augment your logical thinking.
- Set up. Poetic thinking needs calm and a break from the intensity of logical thinking. One example of this preparation is the scientist who struggles in the lab over a problem. She has a “Eureka!” moment when she settles down with glass of wine at home that night. In relaxing, she set up for poetic thinking. You might try any of several things to let go of the problem and relax. Meditation, exercise, yoga, prayer, reading, singing, dancing, ropes courses, hiking, breathing, and nature can all help. You can also bring in someone as “poetic thinking partner;” a coach or facilitator whose presence and processes will prepare you. Whether for yourself or your team(s), prepare to do poetic thinking.
- Allow. Now comes a leap of faith. To “do” poetic thinking, you have to let it come your way, like an inspiration. This can sound very foreign if you’re used to using mostly logical thinking. You most likely have done this in the past and can use that experience to help you make this leap here. When Sheila Doris, an interior designer, wants to apply poetic thinking elsewhere in her business, she recalls how easily it flows when she’s at the drawing board. If you’ve ever experienced what Abraham Maslow called peak experiences, use that to inspire this leap of faith. Whether it comes during a conversation, journaling, or in a flash when you were otherwise engaged, poetic thinking will work when you allow it and not force it. If you find your logical mind hasn’t (or those of your colleagues haven’t) given up trying to “figure it out,” you can ease back into this “allow” state with a quick acknowledgment.
- Act. Use logical thinking to act on the insights you get through poetic thinking.
Your thoughts, logical, poetic, or otherwise.
Give it a try! Love to hear your thoughts. Add a comment below to share your perspective. For instance, I use the term ‘poetic thinking.’ There are lots of other words to describe what I mean. How do you describe it?