Thinking isn’t work. Nor is strategy, nor planning. They’re just the stuff that comes before work. They’re supposed to save time, not cost it.
To be useful, an hour of thinking ought to save at least two. And it can! A touch of time spent on the goals of a site redesign will repay itself tenfold in coding time.
The problem comes from longer chunks of thinking. Can that full-day all-hands meeting on marketing strategy really justify itself? I’m skeptical. Will a month of business planning ever come back to you? No chance.
Even talking to customers — which I’m obviously a big fan of — can quickly degrade into thought-waste. For example, I occasionally bump into founders who say something like:
We’re big believers in customer development. All we’ve been doing for the last 3 months is talking to people.
And it’s like:
Steve Blank put it nicely in the introduction to the Startup Owner’s Manual. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said:
Learning is pointless if you don’t have the development speed to act on it.
He was talking about iteration speed (learn a little, build a little), but it applies everywhere thinking is involved. A little bit goes a long way. Having too much (or none) is bad.
And in Derek Sivers’ completely wonderful book, Anything You Want, he says (paraphrasing again):
Ideas aren’t valuable by themselves; they are a multiplier of your execution.
A bad enough idea will destroy any work you put into it. Better ideas make your work increasingly valuable. But the ideas are worthless until you execute. If you spend forever coming up with ideas, you never unlock the value. Thinking is the same way: it doesn’t count as work. It’s just there to make your work better. Thinking happens first, but it’s not the point. Don’t get addicted to it.