Action & Thinking Triggers

by Dan Walsh

How to prevent over-thinking and under-performing.

I think I’ve discovered something profound. So profound it’s almost obvious – like an overlooked universal truth. For much of my life I’ve been a thinker, a planner, a dreamer. I used to talk talk talk about my ideas, make lists, and strategize, but I was weak on execution. At some point I realized this, and with much effort uprooted many of my former habits so that I could become a doer. I thought being heavily action oriented would lead me to success. I dove headfirst into ambitious projects and made excellent progress on all of them. But they all eventually came to a halt. It’s much easier to start a bunch of fires then it is to tend them all.

I thought ACTION was the secret formula, but it wasn’t. Something was still missing. I realize now that missing element was everything good that came along with overthinking a project… Damnit! Which one is it!?

The answer is neither.

Or both.

The question is wrong.

Thinking and doing are not separate. They have to work together. Like I said, “duh”. But the real challenge is how do you combine them? It’s so easy to get stuck thinking and then never do anything. And it’s equally easy to get stuck doing but do all the wrong stuff and never go anywhere. We all know people on either side of this equation. The thinkers always talk about their big dreams but never seem to do anything tangible to get there. The doers create a lot of motion but ultimately never get anywhere either. I sympathize because I’ve been both. So how should we reconcile thinking and doing without getting stuck in either mode?

We have to cycle through them. I think setting triggers that make us change gears is the way to do it. I’m still working through this, so my triggers are semi-vague. I’ll update when I have something more concrete, but here’s what I have so far.

  1. Do just enough research, planning, and thinking until you know enough to take action.
  2. Take just enough action until you get enough real world information to start thinking again.
  3. Use the new info to formulate a better action.
  4. Repeat.

That’s the loop.

Yes, this is the fundamental idea behind performance marketing, lean manufacturing, and even the lean startup movement. Like I said, it seems so obvious. But the real trick here is knowing when to go from thinking to doing, and then back to thinking again. It’s the triggers.

This took me almost 30 years to realize.

Here’s the thing, no matter what we see in movies and read in books, the world never goes according to plan. There are too many variables, too much chaos, and our brains can only hold so much information. We can’t know everything ahead of time, so it’s pointless to spend a million hours coming up with a detailed plan that ultimately won’t work. Mindless action doesn’t cut it either. We need at least a semi-informed plan of attack. Otherwise we repeat a bunch of mistakes or spend time and money running in the wrong direction.

The real path to success is the ability adapt, and adapt quickly. Proper triggers help us do that. It’s evolution baby!