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Thinkers and Doers Must Work Together — or We’ll All Fail Spectacularly



Thinkers and Doers Must Work Together — or We’ll All Fail Spectacularly

An urgency to ignite a step change in collaboration between the Thinkers and the Doers in our organizations struck me recently as I walked the shore of New London Bay on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Two examples of Thinkers versus Doers include marketing versus sales and engineering versus production. Marketing creates programs to sell; sales actually go face to face with customers. Engineering designs production systems; production actually makes stuff.

Other opposing pairs like this exist within organizations, where one group thinks and then hands off its work to others who are tasked with executing it — but I’ll stay with these two groups for this post.

These “hand offs” are the root cause of at least 50 percent of the failures of new ideas. The hand offs don’t work because the Thinkers don’t usually respect or really understand the hands-on work. The hand offs don’t work because the Doers don’t respect the broader issues built into the ideas. The result is Thinkers make unreasonable requests, and Doers compromise on strategic intent to “just get the production out,” or “just get the sale at any price.”

Three False Cures for the Thinker-Doer Divide

1. Allow the Thinker team to have a representative on the Doer team. The theory is that if everyone is in the room all will be good. This only works if the true decision makers from each department are involved. Usually, the representative is a lower level person who doesn’t have the understanding, authority or seniority to say No when a project isn’t realistic from the other team’s perspective.

2. A briefing, along with a “walk-through” or “drive along.” The theory is that a 2-hour production briefing, plant walk through or salesperson drive along can give the Thinkers all they need to know. Truth is, most Thinkers do their work because they believe they’re “superior in intellect,” and already know everything they need to know.

3. Invest more time in thinking harder. The theory is that if the Thinkers just think more, all will be right. The most common way of doing this is to hire a mega-consulting firm and apply 50 newly minted MBAs to the challenge. The truth is, no amount of thinking can comprehend the complexities of actually doing the work.

What’s needed is a new type of organizational structure that more closely replicates small companies, who generally achieve 10-times the success in innovation as large companies (50% success for small companies versus 5% for large companies). With small companies, the Thinker is the Doer. By this, I mean that everyone has joint responsibility. Depending on the organization, it could be 50/50 Thinker/Doers, it could be 8/20 or 20/80.

What matters is joint ownership by everyone on thinking and doing. The Thinkers need to own their thinking all the way to the finish point. The Doers need to take responsibility for problem-solving ways that ensure they execute against the broader business needs.

This means everyone who engineers also work in the factory. This means that everyone who develops marketing programs also sells them to customers.

As I made my way up from the shore, I realized that, for many, this kind of idea would sound delusional. They will say that it’s just not done that way; that our silos and departments are too valuable to be dissolved. They’d consider this type of change too much work.

At our two sister companies: Eureka! Ranch and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y, we’ve always had people work across disciplines. However, in 2019 we’ll take this to new levels. Maggie Nichols, Eureka! Ranch CEO and I are expanding cross-functional ownership to both work teams and companies. The potential for positive impact is exponential.

Diversity — true diversity and engagement — has an exponential impact on the quality of innovation work.

Doug Hall is an inventor, researcher, educator and craft whiskey maker. He is founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. He’s been named one of America’s top innovation experts by Inc. magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Dateline NBC, CNBC, CIO Magazine and the CBC. His new book, Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods & the Innovation Engineering System (Clerisy Press, Oct. 16, 2018) describes how to transform innovation from random acts to a reliable science. Learn more at