Be a Thinking Bridge
You probably heard the expression, one plus one is greater than two, or that two heads are
better than one, or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It stems from the experience
that when two people get together, they can collectively come up with solutions that are better
than if they worked individually. In many cases, they can solve a problem that could not be
There are countless examples of this. In complex technology sales, sales engineers and
sales people collectively work together to solve a customer problem. In research professions,
the collaboration between specialists in different fields, or perhaps just different locations, will
often result in understanding a situation, when individually they could not see it. The inventor
of a solution who partners with a business person to materialize it into a successful business.
A customer care manager and IT specialist who get together and collectively improves a
process that makes an entire department more productive.
In this world of increasingly highly specialized fields, the collaboration between all these
subject matter experts becomes more and more important. It is said that Galileo was
probably the last human who had the mental capacity to know all of what was known at the
time. After that, the knowledge base of the human race became too large for any one person
to know. Nowadays, you can’t even know everything there is to know about the very field you
are a subject matter expert in.
Sometimes 1+1 = 0;
Unfortunately, left to happenstance, two knowledgeable people often don’t meet, don’t talk,
and don’t collaborate. The invention, innovation and new solutions that would have come
from that encounter, doesn’t. The information didn’t get from person A to person B.
That’s when 1+1=0.
A Thinking Bridge
When you encounter a problem, you have a few choices as to what role you can play to get the
problem solved. You can be the “Solution Creator”. This is the person who comes up with a
solution. You can be the “Subject Matter Expert” who brings knowledge and information to
solution creators, or you can be a “Thinking Bridge”
A Thinking Bridge focuses on the following question; What group of Solution Creators and
Subject Matter Experts can be brought together to collectively solve this problem? You bridge the
resources, that together, will solve the problem.
Here are two examples.
Let’s say someone has an illness. The patient is going from one doctor to another. While
doctors have and use knowledge outside their specialty, like all of us, they will tend to look at
things through the perspective of what they know best. They’ll run tests and try to diagnose
the problem from their specialty view. What is sometimes needed is a stronger collaboration
between a set of doctors with different specialties to diagnose an unusually illness. Who
makes this happen? Sometimes as a patient, you are the one who has to create the bridge
to ensure information, collaboration and discussion occurs between the doctors.
Great project managers are great thinking bridges. The project manager sees to it that the
appropriate parties meet, collaborate, communicate and together solve a problem. This
sometimes means getting customers involved, or senior management, or another
department that may have the knowledge or resources to contribute to a solution.
Innovative companies have people who are great thinking bridges. These folks continually
ensure that the people with knowledge, both in and outside the company, work together to form
solutions. The thinking bridges are the antithesis of the corporate silos.
Successful managers, team leads, project managers, and executives must be skilled in
the role of a being a thinking bridge. They “create” solutions, or better yet, enable them to
happen, by getting the right people to work, talk, and collaborate together.
As a thinking bridge, your job isn’t to come up with the solution to a problem. Your job is
to ensure that a solution to a problem is created. You do this not by being a Solution Creator
or a Subject Matter Expert, but by creating a bridge that facilitates the collaboration of thinking
and knowledge between the appropriate people who will solve the problem.
Thinking Bridges don’t have to be people ! They can be products and processes.
One of the most powerful thinking bridges ever created was the printing press. It bridged the
thinking and knowledge of experts across distant lands and cultures. The printing press is
considered one of the enabling factors that fueled the industrial revolution, resulting in
thousands and thousands of inventions and applications.
The internet is another more modern bridge. With the internet, and groups of virtual
communities, thinking and knowledge can be instantly shared amongst thousands of experts,
speeding up invention and innovation to the next level.
A meeting specifically designed to bring the knowledge and thinking of people together to
share ideas is a thinking bridge.
Take a look at your job responsibilities. Where can you be a thinking bridge? Where
can you bring knowledge and thinking together, to create more than what exists