Have professionals stopped thinking?

Peter Drucker was once asked why businesspeople fall for fads and fail to rely on empirical evidence, to which he replied:

Thinking is very hard work. And management fashions are a wonderful substitute for thinking.

I have found in my limited experience on this planet that, by and large, people do not engage in an endless search for the truth; they are too busy trying to maximize utility, or just achieve enough to get by (satisfice in economic jargon).

It’s why so many consultants can spew pabulum and get away with it. It’s why so many people challenge what we say based on what they believe to be truths that we long ago have falsified—such as the need to price by the hour AND keep timesheets.

But our arguments and evidence are not conducive to bumper stickers and a seven-step checklist, so people that aren’t taking the time to learn, reflect, read and experiment will reject them as preposterous, as most new ideas indeed usually are. Yet I remain amazed that they reject the empirical evidence all around them that have validated our theories.

This is one reason I wanted to to create a think tank, a place where people would not be concerned with anything other than the pursuit of the truth. VeraSage’s name says it all: Veracity + Sagacity, or true wisdom. Even though every one of our fellows leads incredibly busy lives, trying to run firms and maximize utility, they take the time to think and reflect upon broader issues.

Some say this is a luxury, or not relevant to the “real world”—an especially ignorant charge—but I believe in order to achieve a robust dynamism in the business world, one needs not only doers but also thinkers. As in the American Revolution, it was said that George Washington fought for it while Thomas Jefferson thought for it.

In that spirit, I was thrilled to see a post by fellow Chris Marston: “Our Profession Has Stopped Thinking: How Else Could We Have Departed from Sound Economic Principles?

Chris admits this was a rant he wrote while traveling to New York via train to meet up with me and Dan Morris so we could attend the preview to The Call of the Entrepreneur movie (more on that later).

Even so, it’s an excellent rant, one that should make us all pause as we approach the end of the year to deeply reflect on our accomplishments, objectives, and overarching purpose.

Thanks for the rant Chris! Sadly, I think you are right. Optimistically, I hope we at VeraSage have contributed to a resurgence of professionals thinking for themselves.

As always, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with Chris based on your experience within your chosen profession.


  1. Hi Ron,

    Guilty!!! For not thinking often enough. But I do not believe that I am alone in this malaise. We all get too wrapped up in checking things off of our endless lists that sometimes the truly important topics get little consideration.

    One of our youngest team members not long ago said that sometimes we celebrate checking something off the list whether or not the task actually accomplished anything of value to our customer….true wisdom! But again, I am guilty. Been there, done that.

    Unfortunately, I think I spent the early part of my career (about 18 years)in a knowledge worker field but not acting like a knowledge worker. I thik I recall Dan Morris saying that things like this can happen. It happens because thinking is hard! Taking time to evaluate situations for the true cause of issues is much harder than just saying if we had this or that “report” we would know what to do.

    Leaders in various knowledge worker fields such as law, accouning, business consulting, etc are sometimes leaders by default…they simply hung around long enough to be the “last man standing”. The true leaders however are thought leaders, innovators, and
    are just curious about truth and why things are like they are. That, my friend, is rare.

    Chris Marston is right, most in our professions don’t think, not because they are not capable…but because it is difficult. And we know we want to do easy things! But successful people make a habit of doing hard things…like thinking!


  2. Thanks Tim, I totally agree with your knowledge worker comment.

    When I started with Peat Marwick Mitchell (now KPMG) in 1984, I thought of myself as a service worker, not a knowledge worker.

    I didn’t truly understand the difference until I left and started on my own, even then it took a while to really learn about all the substantial differences between those terms.

    Your “last man standing” is also true, what Ric Payne calls “rising on the letterhead,” usually based on seniority, not merit, and certainly not on thinking!

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m not certain if it’s the “lack of thinking” or the lack of curiosity that troubles me about professionals.

    We all can’t be Einsteins, but what amazes me is how so many professionals are certain in their knowledge. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had where someone will say, “But you can’t run a firm without timesheets. How would you know if you’re making money, what people are doing, etc?

    This is after they’ve heard that firms are doing it! Now either they think I’m lying, or they are so entrenched in their beliefs they can’t even conceive an alternative.

    Lack of thinking may just be lack of curiosity, I’m not sure of the causal relationship. Do people who think a lot read a lot? Or do they read a lot because they think a lot? What makes someone intellectually curious? Is it reading, experimenting, constantly talking with others about alternative ways of doing things?

    After all, if someone tells me of empirical evidence that challenges everything I hold dear and true in a given area, I either better already know about it and be able to refute it, or I better open my mind, shut up, and learn something. And I better be able to change my mind based on contrary evidence.

    This is what I find lacking among professionals. The lack of thinking is an outgrowth of a lack of intellectual curiosity about the world around them.

    I’d love to hear what others think about this. I probably spend way too much time thinking about it.

Speak Your Mind


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.