Podcast #01 - Change Managing Fast And Slow Thinkers

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James Lewis is a senior Change Management professional with MIGSO-PCUBED with Private and Public Sector experience in driving change both within and without the UK. Dominic Young is Change Management Professional with MIGSO-PCUBED as well and is specialized as a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) coach and practitioner.  Both James and Dominic were excited to speak at the 2020 Association for Change Management Global Conference on Delivering Change into Neuro Diverse Communities.  Well until the event was cancelled.  Join both James and Dominic on their first foray into podcasting as they share what they have learned about fast and slow thinkers and how taking that into account can help you make your change projects and programs more successful. 

This podcast is part of our podcast series Coming out Stronger.
Listen to our other episodes.

Table of Contents


James Lewis: Hi everybody out there in the MI-GSO PCUBED community. My name is James Lewis. I look after the, change management capability working out of London for MIGSO PCUBED.  This is the first of what I hope will be a number of really interesting and helpful podcasts for the community, looking at various aspects of our role and perhaps giving some ideas and thought leadership as to how to address certain issues, which may be we’ve been, struggling within our day to day roles or we need a bit of support with, or maybe it’s something you didn’t know you didn’t know.

We’re going to talk about change managing fast and slow thinking today. Now, the usual format for these episodes will be me introducing, and then I guess a kind of interviewer and an interviewee [style] where the interviewer will pose five or six questions to the interviewee and give them a chance to wax lyrical about the subject of their choice. 

So, with that introduction done the first topic which we’re going to go with today is change managing fast and slow thinkers.

And, I am going to be the interviewee in this case, and so therefore we need an interviewer and I’m delighted to introduce my esteemed colleague and change management compatriot in the UK Dominic Young. Hello Dominick.

Dominic Young:  Hello James. It’s great to be talking to you today.

It’s a great initiative and I’m proud to be part of it. Could I just kick off please? Why have you chosen change managing fast and slow thinkers to start the podcast series?

James Lewis:  Yeah. Thank you, Dominic. So I guess because it’s less obvious, I think there’s, there’s a lot of stuff in change management thinking which is standard; stakeholder management, change impact assessments, sorting the training out,  communications, planning and all of this.

But sometimes when we actually go into that standard change journey, we leave people behind who perhaps don’t think quite the same as everybody else. Fast and slow thinking is a good example of that. 

It’s also important because as an organization MIGSO-PCUBED prides themselves on tailoring their solutions to the client – not doing one size fits all – taking into account the fast and the slow thinkers into an organization and how we’re going to deal with them both differently.  I think is a really important part of the process of listening to the client’s requirements and tailoring what we do to fit them.

Dominic Young:  Interesting. What do you think are the pitfalls for today’s leaders who fail to take the whole fast and slow thinking concept into account?

James Lewis: Well, that’s an interesting question, Dominic. Leaders tend to be quite an extroverted community and are often quite fast thinkers. They need to be – to be able to think on their feet, to deal with changing circumstances and changing requirements.  That means sometimes that leaders who are fast thinkers may not have a natural empathy with the slow thinking community.  Perhaps I should explain exactly what fast and slow thinking is before I go any further.

So fast thinkers are people who love to react immediately and love brainstorming sessions. If they are given a challenge or a problem, they have already written five or six post-its in about two minutes and stuck them up on the board.  They love the back and forth of debate and forming their ideas and solutions on the hoof (“fly” for our American listeners).

Slow thinkers don’t like any of that. It makes them feel quite uncomfortable. They like to be given an idea or some instructions around a problem to solve, and then they like to go away and think about it quite deeply.  It takes quite a lot of time, but what you get from a slow thinker is a very carefully formed solution or ideas which are the product of deep thinking. 

So you can see that both kinds of thinking have terrific strengths, but are different. And to actually get the best [out] of both of those [types of] people, you have to deal with them in different ways.

So leaders, who are largely fast thinkers, sometimes don’t particularly empathize with the slower thinkers. For instance, there was an exercise carried out where they mixed up fast and slow thinkers together and found that where you did have a combination and they worked well as a team together, then you actually got a lot better results.

So I think from a leadership point of view, you want to get the best out of fast and slow thinkers. You want them working well together because to have a diverse, I suppose, a neuro-diverse approach to problem solving inevitably leads you to a richer range of solutions and makes you more effective as an organization.

So we have to get that balance right. And that’s what leaders have to think about. They have to actually take themselves out of their natural zone of empathy with other fast thinkers and think, how do I bring the slow thinking population into the area where they can provide solutions as well.

"They [leaders] have to actually take themselves out of their natural zone of empathy with other fast thinkers and think, how do I bring the slow thinking population into the area where they can provide solutions as well."

James Lewis

So a high degree of cognitive diversity and this respect could definitely generate accelerated learning and performance in the face of what are increasingly uncertain and complex situations. And that’s what leaders want to find in their organizations at the moment.

Dominic Young: I see. That’s very interesting. If you are meeting a fast or slow thinker on a one to one basis, how should you alter your approach?

James Lewis:  So with the fast thinker, you can just invite them to a meeting, put the title of the meeting in, and then once they have sat down in front of you, you can tell them what you want.  They are [typically] now very happy to give you some ideas and discuss it with you.

The fact that they haven’t had much time to prepare is of no great import.  For slow thinkers though it’s completely different. When you’re sending out the invitation [for a meeting with a slow thinker], you need to be giving them a lot of detail about what you’re likely to be talking about. You need to tell them exactly what you’re expecting from them in the meeting and give them a chance to consider how they’re going to respond several hours to ideally the day before. 

I’ll give you an example of how this has worked recently. Dominic, you will know that we were both a scheduled to deliver a presentation at the Association of Change Management Professionals Global conference on Delivering Change into Neuro Diverse Communities.

Sadly that’s been canceled, due to COVID- 19, but as part of the actual information gathering exercise for the neurodiversity presentation, I interviewed several slow thinkers.

My practice was that I would send out a lot of detail in the meeting invitation about why I was setting the meeting up. I would include why I had chosen them, what we were going to talk about and what I was expecting from them. [When one colleague came in] she said, “thank you for sending it out like that”.  “It really resonated with me and ever since I got up this morning, when I was showering and breakfasting and driving into work, I spent that whole time thinking about how I was going to respond to your questions and now I’m ready.” She continued, “but if you were just to have given me a two line intro and I’d have to turn up now and then you’d told me all of that good stuff now, I would not have been able to give you anything as detailed an answer to your questions.” 

If you encapsulate it, you should give them [slow thinkers] time to think about it in advance – ideally 24 hours. Let them do their slow thinking before the meeting so that when they come to the meeting, they’re ready.

Dominic Young: Okay. That’s good . So we’ve covered how to deal with diversity on a one to one basis, but as everyone knows, when we sit in a room full of people, we were going to have a diverse mixture within the room. How would you differ your approach in terms of running training sessions and workshops so that you can ensure that both styles of thinkers are catered for equally?

James Lewis: So I think there’s a similar point to what I made in the one to one in that the agenda needs to be sent out in advance and needs to be clear and exactly detail out what we’re going to talk about and when. Slow thinkers don’t like to be forced to interact without actually having due warning of it. 

For instance, slow thinkers tend get very uncomfortable in icebreaker situations, where they have to think of weird things that nobody knows about and be prepared to talk for five minutes about themselves with no notice.  Fast thinkers love that though.

If you’re doing the kind of standard brainstorming where you’re sticking post it notes up on the board – actually give people permission to put those post it notes on an hour or two later if need be. Actually acknowledge for slow thinkers and say, right, so we’re going to say 20 minutes now, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to think these through quite carefully, feel free to go put more post its notes up on the board later on in the morning as and when the ideas are fully crystallized in your head.

I’ve got another interesting example about how I’ve changed the way I’ve run a workshop to accommodate slow thinker. Quite often you’ll be running a workshop, but you may be running it for certain role type which seem to attract more slow thinkers than others.

Say for instance [you have] a lot of technical roles and engineering roles where you need quite a lot of deep thought to actually work through problems.  The way you do things tends to attract a slower breed of thinker.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to run a workshop for a community of people whose roles meant that they were likely to have a very high percentage of slow thinkers in the group. I was brought in specifically to tailor my style, which is normally quite passionate, quite articulate, quite a lot of running around the room; but to tailor that to this particular group.

So this is what I did. They sat in a semi circle and I sat down, I didn’t stand up. I didn’t want to do anything which would make them feel that they were going to be put on the spot at all. I then gave them each a number, around the room between one and 20.  I said, right, what’s going to happen is my colleague next to me here is going to present certain slides and then you’re going to be asked to comment on them, but I’m going to ask you to comment on them in the same sequential order each time.

So as he’s going through the slides, you can be thinking what you’re going to say and you will know exactly when you are going to be asked to comment.   That worked well with a slow thinking population and it ended up being a, a surprisingly successful workshop. I think that if I had done it in a more interactive, off the cuff, passionate, standing up, articulating things, kind of way, I don’t think it would have worked as well.

Dominic Young:  I just have one remaining question to sort of wrap this up with.  You’ve talked about the different styles of thinking, and you’ve talked about how we could tailor our approach there.  How could we know or how do we know in advance who is a fast thinker and who is a slow thinker?

James Lewis: Yeah. Well, I mean that’s an, that’s an excellent question to finish up on a Dominic and a lot of people who will probably be listening to this saying yes, this is all very well, but how do I know who’s fast and who’s slow? 

I think all of us, not just change managers, but people in the vast majority in delivery roles are working with people a lot of the time. As a part of that, there will be a kind of mobilization phase, where you sit down with a lot of your stakeholders to understand what their hopes and fears are, how they operate and what makes them tick.

"I think if you can think about fast and slow [in these moments], that will probably inform how you deal with them. And, by doing that then you are much more likely to engage these people, to make them advocates of what you're wanting to do, to create a coalition for the change you want to push through and to make your projects and programs more successful."

James Lewis

It’s at that stage, through those conversations where you start to understand their personality and how they like to operate. 
The MIGSO-PCUBED stakeholder management tool actually lends itself very well to recording people’s specific requirements in terms of how they like to be communicated with.

It’s in those early stages of setting up your program or project or the change which you’re trying to run through; when you’re starting to actually isolate and analyze your stakeholders, that’s where you can draw your own conclusions, whether they’re fast or slow thinkers. It happens at this moment as you’re having those conversations, but you’re probably not thinking about it in those terms.

I think if you can think about fast and slow [in these moments], that will probably inform how you deal with them. How you set up your one to ones, how you set up your workshops. And, by doing that then you are much more likely to engage these people, to make them advocates of what you’re wanting to do, to create a coalition for the change you want to push through and to make your projects and programs more successful.

Dominic Young: Okay. That is really interesting. There’s a lot of stuff  there to think about. I would just like at this point to thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and wisdom with us.  Thank you very much indeed.

James Lewis: Thank you Dominic. And that concludes the first of our podcasts, so thanks to Dominick and also thanks to Charles Wilman, who is our sound engineer and editor. We look forward to presenting you the next podcast very, very shortly. This hopefully will be the first of a of a fairly long running series. Have a good day everybody.

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