Are you a Thinker or a Doer (or Both)?

That question without the parenthesis threw me off. I was being asked about a potential candidate and the hiring manager asked me to choose. ‘Would you say he’s a thinker or a doer?’.


It was a simple yes or no question but I was immediately hesitant in my response. Surely you can be both? If I said doer, it could mean they weren’t very strategic, and if I said thinker it would translate to ‘never gets anything done’. I think I gave some kind of diplomatic reply – he can do both, etc. I’m not sure it convinced said hiring manager. It probably came across like they weren’t outstanding in either leading to the presumption of mediocrity. 

I’m much more firm in my belief now. Most successful people who leave a positive impact, are good at both thinking and doing. You don’t have to choose even if other people try to.

Maybe my allergic reaction at being asked to put someone in a box stems from my own experiences. I’ve always wanted to push back against stereotypes. We should be able to make an impact without having to put so much extra energy trying to convince people of it. Bias is inevitable and part of our human condition. When faced with something new, our brain naturally tries to categorize it with something familiar so we can make sense of it. It’s a useful instinct especially if you have to make a split second decision about a looming danger (and run away). At other extremes people can be purposefully ignorant and embrace prejudices. 


Are you a thinker or a doer? You need to be both

The question is loaded because the questioner doesn’t expect the same skills in one person. It’s incorrect as proven by many examples of people who have left incredible, positive legacies. Think of groundbreaking scientists, CEO’s, activists, any kind of leader from any background. They needed both skills of thinking and doing to make change. One without the other was rare. You can of course be weaker or stronger in each. If only the people who were strong in thinking, made more plans and strong in doing did more planning. Both are skills that can be improved. We can all aspire to be good (or excellent) at both. We don’t need to believe or let others define us as either a thinker or doer.

If there is one takeaway I’d like to leave you with it’s to beware of any question like this that puts you in a box. You can be a great thinker and doer. One doesn’t negate the other. You can exceed in both and most times you will have to if you want to make a difference.


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