Thinkers And Doers: Why The Two Must Be One To Get Things Done

The Critical Doer Is Committed To Thinking And Doing 

A friend of mine named Kristina suggested I take a look at management guru Peter Drucker’s seminal book The Effective Executive as chapter 1 in particular has strong ties to the philosophy of a critical doer.  Kristina is a critical doer so she ought to know…and she was right.  But as I went into the rabbit hole, I discovered it went much deeper than I thought.

Commitment to thinking and doing is the first trait of a critical doer.  Peter Drucker uses the term “effectiveness” to describe the same concept.  In chapter 1, Drucker says “Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.  By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained.”  He further amplifies with an anecdote from manufacturing where he says that an idea doesn’t produce a quality pair of shoes…a skilled worker does that.  The quality pair of shoes is the result of an effective leader figuring out the right thing to do and communicating that to a worker who can bring the idea to life.  Sounds swell…but it gets sticky.

Drucker also points out that the ratio of “knowledge workers” to laborers has decreased…and far more now than the trend he observed when he penned his book well over 30 years ago.  As the ratio has contracted, my observation is that our culture is devolving into factions called “thinkers” and “doers.”  This is counter to critical doer philosophy and any organization, culture, family, or individual that allows this fracture to occur has made a choice to enter a death spiral from which recovery is difficult…here’s why.

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestseller called Blink where he introduced us to the concept of “thin slicing” which he generally defines as a process of making quick decisions based upon minimal information.  In building his case, Gladwell cites the work of John Gottman, a psychologist who specializes in marriage counseling.  Gottman defined four reactions between married couples that he called “the four horsemen.”  One of the horsemen, according to the book, is rarely recoverable…contempt.

When thinking and doing are segregated, contempt is inevitable.  The group called thinkers will begin to view the doers as less important…and with that comes diminished respect.  The doers conversely gain contempt for the thinkers because they seem disconnected from the practical side of business where effectiveness is ultimately judged.  

If you’re not sure if this condition exists in your organization, here are some ways to find out.  One of the first signs is chronic resistance to change based upon no evidence other than change is different.  Next, ask your executive leadership a few questions like…the last time you visited where the production work is actually done, the name of key production folks and some details about their families, their education, etc., if you’ve ever actually tried doing their job to see the enterprise from their point of view.  To the folks in production, you may ask…what is our mission statement, priorities, the most effective thing we’ve done to address “quality of work”, do you know anything personally about the executives?

In the course of conversation, you can see just like John Gottman whether there is a hard schism in your organization and if it has festered into contempt.  If you see that, evidence suggests you should move to fix it quickly or polish up your resume`.

The questions in the previous paragraph can also be the compass that points you toward restoring the union between thinking and doing.  Communication is vital and your strategic communication plan must adequately explain strategy, define how everyone contributes, and make everyone an owner of the result.  Crossflow amongst the work force is also highly effective…walking a mile in someone else’s shoes fosters communications, breaks down false perceptions, and turns contempt into camaraderie.  Celebrating the heroes is also highly effective in that it shows thinking, taken to completion by doing, is rewarded.  A critical doer can be rewarded for a new idea that is brought into production…or an innovative way to accomplish a production step more efficiently that gives a competitive advantage.

Critical doers, now comes that hard part with this challenge.  A critical look in the mirror can be difficult, but it’s the only way to drive meaningful change.  If you see contempt between thinkers and doers or even worse feel that way yourself, the hard truth is…you are failing in your leadership role.  Take steps today to close the gap so that every member of your organization, although they have different jobs, is united in commitment to thinking and doing.  It was first said in the Bible and President Lincoln made these words enduring in our nation’s history…”a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  The accountability is yours, and if you’re a critical doer you won’t pine away that “somebody should do something.”  The ball is in your court…go play the game.  It’s what a critical doer would…do!



Reminder:  you can get automatic updates from The Critical Doer by using the subscription widget at the bottom of this post.  You can also follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  I also encourage you to let me know what you think of the posts or share a story of your own using the comments section or email me directly at [email protected].



Updated: January 17, 2015 — 5:22 pm


  1. It is very easy for me to see the wisdom in this posting. As a federal employee, I can tell you that, at least in my agency, we are rife with the separation of “thinkers vs. doers” mentality. Upper management, many who have never spend a day as a field level employee, constantly make decisions that are not practical at the field level. Instead of first soliciting their ideas to the field level to see if the idea will float, they just implement it. Then when told the idea is full of problems, their answer to the field is “Make it work”. This is a recipe for “making a shoe” that is going to fall apart in the middle of a 5 mile hike. Nobody is infallible in their thinking…even a “critical thinker” To me, a critical doer is someone who knows how to align both sides of the equation so that it produces a desirable result.

  2. There is an old saying— “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

    That saying makes me question the premise of the post. Is this akin to “situational ethics” — in that the scenario at hand drives the division or collusion of the thinker and the doer?

    When survival is at hand, the natural tendency is to be a doer. In fact, pilots often rehearse possible scenarios to shorten the decision cycle (thinking). That way when things happen, they can be doers, not thinkers at the time. They had already done the thinking that would shape the future actions.

    When viewed on a larger scale — that of an organization rather than a single pilot in a plane — a similar analogy from naval history comes to mind. “All hands on deck!” This phrase or command was a cry or signal used on board ship, typically in an emergency, to indicate that all crew members are to go on deck.

    The implication for this post is that if all available resources are required for “doing”; there really isn’t time for thinking other than that required to respond to the immediate situation.

    If the situation is that desperate, then how can the organization create thinking space that can help the organization solve its current dilemma and change to address new and different challenges?

    The most obvious answers are to accept risk by pulling resources away from the current desperate fight or to outsource the thinking.

    But isn’t that separating the thinkers and the doers? And what are the issues with both approaches?

    In the former scenario — pulling embattled resources out of the current fight — leaders risk hastening organizational collapse or failure.

    In the latter scenario — outsourcing the thinking — leaders risk the “purity” of the result. How can the leaders make sure they are getting agenda free, decision quality information based on a rigorous analytical process to help leadership transform challenges into viable choices? In this case, the thinkers are probably not the doers that will implement leadership’s choice.

    Then leadership’s challenge becomes getting getting the buy-in from the doers for an outsider’s concept — an outsider, who oh by the way, has no clue why we do business that we do.

    The most viable compromise would seem to be to accept some risk in the current fight by cutting a trusted critical doer (or a few of them) away to engage with the outside agency.

Comments are closed.