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Are the UK’s largest organisations shrinking their thinking?

Watch out if you and your team are working in a large organisation.

Why? It’s clear that people working in larger organisations are restricting their thinking. In comparison to those working in smaller organisations, people are more inward looking and less likely to seek out external influences and inspirations or look at ideas in fresh or new ways. 

Latest research* reveals there are significant differences between employees’ use of their thinking capabilities when working in larger organisations (5,000+ employees) compared to those working in smaller organisations (249-4999 employees).

Those in larger organisations (5,000+ employees) are significantly less likely than those in smaller organisations (249-4999 employees) to:

  • Take relevant information from wherever it may come from
  • Find new experiences and examples to take ideas from
  • Seek out external ideas and influences
  • Find ideas from other sectors or disciplines, and apply them to what they’re working on
  • Go beyond looking at ‘typical’ information sources
  • Take inspiration from different sectors, industries or areas of life
  • Look at things with fresh eyes
  • Bring existing ideas together in new ways
  • Take time to mull things over or sleep on things
  • Find ways to go beyond the way things have always been
  • Imagine new ideas and alternatives other than those immediately in view


This has important implications. Employees in larger organisations are significantly less likely to think laterally and create new patterns and connections. This is may be acceptable in a world where the past predicts the future and tomorrow is the same as today, or where there is no need to adapt to anything new. But today’s world is volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex. An organisation that is inward looking may be unable to change when it needs to.

There’s also an elephant in the room. We know it’s there but few are yet to properly consider what happens to us when it starts to take up more space. That elephant is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Regardless of our personal hopes and fears, AI is relieving employees of more routine and mundane tasks, taking on the burden of analysis, speeding up and overcoming human processing limitations. It will take the bulk of the space where the past predicts the future, where automation is more efficient and the task in hand doesn’t require anything out of the ordinary. It is, and will be, an incredible aid; even despite the on-going biases which may remain as much within the machines using human data, as within the humans themselves.

Inadvertently, one of the greatest unintended consequences of AI will be to help us value our own human thinking even more.  It will shine a light on what will remain uniquely human – the currently unique ability to create new options, possibilities and opportunities. Lateral Thinking will long remain the domain of humans while computers continue take on the role of hunter-gatherer through the data and information sources to pull out existing patterns and probabilities.


Lateral Thinking refers to the use of Link Thinking and Click Thinking, which are both about creating new patterns:

LINK THINKING: This is the divergent or associative thinking more in keeping with Eastern tradition. This is about finding ideas and inspirations from one area of life and applying them to another, to make new connections.

CLICK THINKING: The lateral or strategic intuitive thinking that is largely unconscious and feels like it happens out of the blue, as an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. This is where ideas that apparently seem unconnected suddenly come together in an instant.

Link Thinking is about creating new connections deliberately and consciously, while Click Thinking is when these connections happen unexpectedly and unconsciously.


So, while larger organisations are shrinking in their full capabilities to think fully, the introduction of AI won’t help them expand all their thinking either.  In the foreseeable, it will help them improve linear thinking, but not their lateral thinking.

This latest study shows that large organisations are failing to make good use of their employees’ natural thinking capabilities and their full potential. The result? Opportunities go missing, ideas on the ground go un-generated and workers feel like they are being asked more and more to act like computers.  But, more to the point, in the longer term, larger organisations are failing to prepare for a workforce that will need to work within human-machine teams, create new patterns and find new solutions that aren’t based on a predictable past. They need employees who are able to use their full thinking long after AI has taken over more of the thinking space and who are able to adapt their thinking to the changing, complex world.

* 2018 UK Thinking Benchmark Study, Thinkfully Limited


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At Thinkfully our aim is to put thinking fully on everyone’s agenda – it’s not just for the creatives, the academics or the cognitive scientists. We want everyone to discover the full power of their thinking, to overcome narrow and rigid thinking, and to use it to make the world a more think fully place. Where will your thinking take you?