I’d like to begin by describing the difference between thinking programmed and lateral thinking. Programmed thinking is the process of using structured methodologies and/or logical algorithmic processes to solve problems, make decisions, and/or create new product offerings. Lateral thinking is, by its nature, more creative than programmed thinking and facilitates pattern recognition, language, and out-of-the-box thinking.
As an IT Manager, an understanding of this concept can help you effectively delegate tasks to your staff in a way that plays to each employee’s personal strengths. Good managers tend to do this through intuition and experience (lateral thinking), but by defining it, it can provide added insights and a more structured way (programmed thinking) to effectively delegate.
To see this principle in action, let’s say you have two tasks you would like to delegate. The first task is reviewing your monthly vs. actual budget report and the second task is writing a client proposal with the hope of gaining additional business. At first glance, you may believe this is easy, namely ask the programmed thinker to review the budget and the lateral thinker to write the new business proposal. Well, this may or may not be the case. For example, you may be having trouble managing your budget because business conditions and product/vendor costs have varied widely from what you had originally anticipated. Therefore, while programmed thinking is required to properly report expenditures; lateral thinking will be required to find creative ways to modify your expenses in future months to keep the budget in line. As a second example, you may think that a new business proposal would require creative (lateral) thinking to maximize the potential chance of winning the contract. Well, yes and no. Depending on the product or service you are selling, proposals may be very custom and tailored to the client or they may require following specific algorithms to be sure the client will not be under or over charged.
The key to effective delegation is twofold. First, you need to assure that the task is done well. Second, and in the long run equally important, you want to delegate in a way that sets your team members up for success and simultaneously allows them to grow as professionals.
When delegating to your staff using their perceived ability as programmed and/or lateral thinkers as one of the criteria, take note that it should only be one of the criteria you use and that virtually everyone has the ability to do both. People may certainly lean one way or the other, but when observing people in the workplace, don’t mentally box them into one type of thinking and therefore into one type of delegated tasks. I have been continually surprised over the years by the hidden and very impressive skills of those who worked for me. I have met people who I thought as just artistic, only to find they had advanced degrees in mathematics and the sciences. I have also met people who were computer programmers that I thought to be just programmed thinkers. Then, I later learned they were great artists, linguists, and with other talents that I generally associated with lateral thinking.
In closing, consider your personal strengths and weaknesses. Are you a programmed and/or lateral thinker and how can you use your natural thinking style to grow professionally, help your staff maximize their potential, and help your company maximize its success?
Until next time, lead well, always communicate, and think business first and technology second.