Outsourced Thinking

Recently, I asked my assistant to spend some time thinking about blog topics for me. Lately, I have been in a doing mode, not too much about the thinking, at least in my personal life. Consequently, things at work are going great when I am fresh and ready to think. But, I am fried at the end of the day with little thinking capacity left for home. So, I need some pre-thinking done.

I outsource some things at home, like yard work. I figured that I could outsource topic thinking too. If given a topic, I could get straight to writing about it. Choosing a topic is sometimes the toughest part of writing blog posts. Here are some thoughts of my own about outsourced thinking, ironically.

Learning Delegation

First, you need to accustom yourself to delegating. If you are not in a managerial position, you do not learn to trust others to get work done. You fail as a manager when you start getting involved in the doing.

I often advise business owners that they are better off letting go of work that an employee can do 80% as well or as fast than stepping in and doing it at 100%. The reason is that even though your employee may not do as good a job, you are still 100% free to do other things for your business. This delegation is the difference between owning a job and owning a business.

In terms of thinking, you own the results, not the process when you outsource.

Time Management

Second, outsourcing is about valuing your time. For example, a movie director wins awards for putting together a great movie. The award never goes towards “Great Thinking Time” or “Outstanding Planning”. Most often, the Director is working on a story that has already been written. Originality, is most often not even a consideration. The value comes in execution.

Similarly, we can save a lot of time by not inventing the wheel. There is prior work and the contributions of others that can put us down the path towards doing great things. I would argue that the craftsmanship put into making a table is more valued than the table itself. There is a significant difference in quality between a $50 table and a $5000 table that is more the result of execution than the result of original thinking. The carpenter’s time is best spent making very good tables than thinking up new designs.

Whatever it is that you do, if you figure out the essence of that, you can outsource the rest. This reduces your downtime, allowing you to crank out great work more consistently. This is especially true in creative work.

Setting Up a System

Third, we often fall into a trap of making things up as we go. This is especially prominent with highly intelligent people. They fall into a laziness of thinking because they are able to “see the big picture”. However, having a high level overview does not automatically set up conditions where one step automatically feeds into the other.

Without a system, you are continuously and inconsistently making things up as you go. Similarly, if you are going to outsource your thinking, it is better if you have a system for doing it so that you have consistent and usable results.

You should know exactly what kind of thinking needs doing, how much time should be dedicated to it, what results you require, constraints for the thinking, and a format for communicating the thoughts back to you. Once you have a process in place, it is easier and more efficient to outsource all kinds of thinking.

Limitations

Obviously, there are limitations to outsourcing your thinking. For example, some thinking needs to be done in a specific place because it allows you to observe the subject of your thinking. If I am going to recommend process improvements to a factory, a person must necessarily be present at the factory to observe the process from end to end. This cannot be outsourced to a virtual assistant on the other side of the world.

Another limitation of outsourcing your thinking is that it should be within the capacity of the thinker. For example, one cannot expect an assistant to think up the cure for cancer. You would, however, ask an assistant to think of romantic things you can do with your spouse, think of pros and cons of a major decision you need to make, or think of things you need to pack for a trip. Even some of these are somewhat dependent on how well your assistant knows you and their level of experience.

Just as tools should be appropriate to the task, the thinker should be appropriate to the subject matter.

Another limitation is that you should not take the outsourced thinking as Gospel. Even though your assistant may have put much effort into thinking, it is merely a framework for your own thoughts to build upon. With greater experience than your assistant, you may find it is lacking in some areas and overthought in others. The point of it all is to give you a starting point that is much further ahead.

I often wrote and co-wrote speeches for a former boss. After writing it, he would add, take out, rearrange, and reword the draft. On occasion, the speech draft was scrapped altogether and he would write the speech entirely. However, he still needed us to give him that launching point from which he could go and make the finished speech.

In short, you are saving your higher level, higher quality thinking for yourself while outsourcing the higher volume thinking.

For the sake of learning how to delegate, managing your time, and systematizing your life, I have presented the idea of outsourcing your thinking. There are many resources that recommend outsourcing tasks, such as routine paperwork, marketing, order processing, gift shopping, and other mundane tasks so that you can spend your time living your life. Here, in contrast, I present you with the idea of outsourcing your thinking so that you spend less time thinking in volume and more time thinking in quality once you have the major thoughts in place.