Think Learning How To Think Is Easy? Think Again.

Two colleagues smiling in their office.

It was an online class on how to think, offered on Sundays at 1 a.m. So maybe it’s understandable why Mishy Co—who lives in the Philippines and does quite a bit of thinking in her work as a marketing and social media strategist—was not particularly excited about taking it.

As it turned out, however, Thinking to Thrive—scheduled on the East Coast at the locally reasonable time of noon on Saturday—became Co’s favorite class in Georgetown University’s 12-week Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp.

A ‘Data-Centric’ World

The class helps students “think about how they think” and, equally important, how other people make their decisions. It does this by delving deeply into several modes of thinking: the Naturalistic Decision Process (NDP), the decision grid, the scientific method, the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP), and the legal decision process. In addition, instructor Stewart Brown explores the ethics of decision-making as well as the process of “war gaming,” which enables students to test their decisions in various contexts and eventualities before they are implemented.

“My career and our clients are all pushing toward more data-centric work and analysis,” says Connie Campos, a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton who took the course as part of the Data Analytics Bootcamp. “I was pretty much the one who took the torch on that effort.”

Not so long ago, “we were using Excel sheets and just manually punching in a lot of things, and I had to manually aggregate the data, and I would use PowerPoint to plot it,” says Campos, a veteran of the New York Army National Guard who previously provided management and administrative support for asymmetric threat training and still works in the military preparedness sphere. “But as we move forward with more technology integrated into the training, we’re going to have a lot more systems that are feeding data to us: medical data, equipment data, and then just soldier-efficiency data.”

‘Natural’ Doesn’t Always Mean Best

The Naturalistic Decision Process, the most common problem-solving approach, asserts that we are virtually hardwired from birth to follow and develop. It can be good for some decisions but disastrous for others if people allow emotions, biases (which are often unconscious), and the lack of structured thinking to interfere.

The decision grid is a construct that attempts to objectify and numericize a decision and provide more clarity, accuracy, candor, and transparency. One facet involves assigning numerical values to various factors in the decision, based on their relative importance to the overall goal, and then uses these as multipliers to reach the best option.

Examples of all these types of complex and often value-laden questions abound in real life and particularly in the public sphere. For one class exercise, Brown, a principal with Dunkirk Partners, had each student, acting as if in a public health capacity, determine the order in which various groups should receive a COVID-19 vaccine based on a multitude of factors, including age, occupation, pre-existing conditions, etc. Not surprisingly, everyone’s plan was different.

Serving the Client and the Team

Marguerita ten Houten, who took the course as part of the Data Analytics Bootcamp, landed her present job at Booz Allen Hamilton at the end of the program. She says the course involves taking a step backward and perceiving the relative weights that various inputs have in making a decision.

“I’m a data engineer, so a lot of times I’m building different architecture for data pipelines; and I use it for different courses of action,” ten Houten says. This leads to questions such as: What are the merits of using different types of technology or different software packages?

“We’ve been able to lay it out in a more objective way, [asking] ‘How is this best going to serve the client? How is this best going to serve my team?’”

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