The Importance of Organized Thinking

By | September 8, 2020

[September 8, 2020]  In early 2007, I was selected for command of a Brigade.  When I was notified, I was in the middle of planning and executing U.S. President George Bush’s troop “surge” in the Iraq War.  I was never busier, and yet, I had dropped into my lap one the most important assignments of my career.  What was required and my combat unit needed, was organized thinking.

This selection to Brigade command was a special honor; very few full colonels get to command such a unit.  Fortunately, I sat down with my current commander and told him about my next job in the U.S. Army.  His guidance was to keep myself and my team organized, get plenty of rest, and stay focused.  If I needed his help, he was there just for the asking.

Upon redeployment back to the states in May, I went directly to my newly assigned Brigade for the traditional change of command.  That afternoon, I sat down with the staff to discuss the upcoming year’s peacetime training schedule and personnel.  I was briefed on higher headquarters’ guidance and got to meet the Brigadier General in charge of my unit and three other Brigades.

I had to admit to myself and my family that I was burnt out mentally after my second full year in combat and that I needed to spend some quality time with both.  After a week’s vacation, it was time to jump back into action.  But I knew that it would require everything I had and all my skills as an officer to be successful.  Fortunately, it was a good unit that functioned well and had only minor personnel problems.  Four Battalion Commanders under my unit were excellent, well-educated, and experienced.  That made my next task more manageable.

There was no higher headquarters’ guidance for training.  Obviously, this was a significant oversight.  I immediately had my staff verify that fact and went about conducting their first-ever formal Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) top-to-bottom review.  On top of the lack of guidance, we were undergoing a significant unit reorganization of mission and unit layout.  It was a challenge that I was not expecting.

After the MDMP, my Operations Officer drafted a new mission statement that better explained what we were doing in the upcoming Fiscal Year.  I was very specific and clear.  After all my staff and subordinate commanders had received my new orders, it was time to speak with my commander, an experienced Brigadier General.

My commander was happy with my planning (in the absence of her higher headquarters’ guidance).  For the next three years, my Brigade consistently achieved better results than other similar units for one reason; we applied organized thinking to our planning and execution efforts.

Here is what organized thinking can do:

  1. Anyone who will give organized thought to organizing his thinking can achieve unbelievable results. It is paramount that leaders evolve an orderly mental procedure to be consciously followed.
  2. There is no hard-set mechanical substitute for the magic processes of our brain, which we call thinking. But there is definitely a mental procedure of thought in which a leader can ensure getting the maximum results from the brain capacity with which he is endowed.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “The Importance of Organized Thinking

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Let’s not overlook the importance of organizing your thoughts and your workplace.

  2. Kenny Foster

    To be an awesome problem solver, first we need to start with the right attitude. And if you don’t have the right positive attitude, you will not think right and not solve the problem at hand.

    1. Army Vet

      … and most people don’t even acknowledge the fact that this is a skill that must be learned and used to be helpful.

      1. Jonathan B.

        Hey, Army Vet, great to see you back on Gen. Satterfield’s website.

  3. Stacey Borden

    Some people are naturally good at problem solving. Others are not (yet). Most are somewhere in between. A lot of people underestimate just how good they are at problem solving. Many don’t realise just how much problem solving they actually do. Problems are all around us and we solve them all the time, be it something as simple as deciding whether to put that extra blanket on the bed tonight, or something a little more difficult like constructing a plane out of old junk you’ve found in the garage.

    1. Walter H.

      I think most people today in America are not good at thinking. Why else would anyone vote for a senile old man like Joe Biden for President. He can barely get thru a sentence with a teleprompter where his people are typing in answers for him or he is reading it. What’s up with that. Proof is right there.

  4. Georgie M.

    Before a problem can be solved, you must first recognize that there is a problem at all….and that is where the issue we are discussing begins! Problem solvers are naturally very observant. They see everything that is happening around them and can quickly identify when such an issue is present.

  5. Bryan Lee

    I like the military MDMP process that Gen. Satterfield lists as a good logical way to think. It helps but let’s remember, as noted in the article, that nothing replaces the brain between our ears as the main tool for “thinking.”

  6. Danny Burkholder

    To do solve problems, you’ll use skills like:
    – Data gathering
    – Data analysis
    – Fact-finding
    – Historical analysis

  7. Randy Goodman

    The biggest problem, IMO, is that problem-solving starts with identifying the issue and we don’t teach kids how to do it, nor do we put them in situations where that is required to succeed.

    1. Mr. T.J. Asper

      Fortunately there are some sports programs and after-school efforts to do just that but they have been weakened in “budget cutbacks” where these programs are the first to go. School administrators never liked them anyway so now they have an excuse to cut them out of the school year. I’ve seen it. I’m sure you have to. The reason they give is a shortage of money and “oh, we are safer without them,” as we are told.

    2. José Luis Rodriguez

      Good points Randy and Mr. TJ. Thanks for your analysis. We can find more info. If you can do so and provide a link, it would be appreciated.

      1. Willie Shrumburger

        Yes, it would help but I think most of us here understand the basics or else we wouldn’t be reading this blog and looking for better ways to be a great leader. Basic skills are no longer required … just follow what the teacher says. No longer do we appreciate such skills as: Brainstorming, Creative thinking, Prediction, Forecasting’ Project design, and Project planning.

  8. Tom Bushmaster

    Good story, Gen. Satterfield. I have personally found that most folks don’t think logically from Point A to Point B after properly identifying a problem. They just act with emotion and whatever comes out of their head at that moment of thinking. This should be a concern because students in school are no longer taught logic.

    1. Army Captain

      I have found over time that new recruits coming into the US Army have similar problem solving skills.

      1. Harry Donner

        Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue. We are DISCOURAGED from learning these basic skills.

      2. Doug Smith

        Problem-solving is considered a soft skill (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that’s learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.

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