How to Conduct Analysis and Think for Yourself

Recently, I wrote a two-part series at Forisk on “Forest Products and the Economics of Timber Markets.” It focused on (1) the practical connection between the things we use and where they come from and (2) methods for organizing our thinking when making decisions. Having a clear understanding of how things work helps specify appropriate questions so we can focus mental resources on analyzing, prioritizing, and deciding.

Anything we can do to avoid trapping ourselves in outdated frameworks or conventional wisdom offers light for insight and new ideas. In my field of forestry, when talking to the same people at the same events, year after year, we can unintentionally find our thinking congeal around a cosmic group consensus. The colleagues and clients I work with want to avoid this, but we remain subject to this risk. What can all of us do to improve our chances for useful analysis and independent thought? 

Get Out of the Truck

First, get out of the truck.” Go visit mills and suppliers and clients. Read analysis from other industries and fields. Have a hobby that relaxes your mind and exposes you to other ideas. As travel guru Rick Steves says, “the more you see the more you see.” Talk to people in the field. Talk with researchers and equipment operators. Talk to bankers, lawyers, and accountants. Then, give yourself time and space to think about what you’ve seen and heard.

Harness Multiple Viewpoints

Second, harness multiple viewpoints. We don’t hire “yes men”; we rely on colleagues sharing different points of view and ways of looking at things. We have clients who feel the same. On multiple occasions, clients have assigned me a “devil’s advocate” role on behalf of Boards of Directors or investors, where my job is to challenge assumptions and come up with alternate scenarios.[1] Other people see things we miss, so avail yourself to that invaluable resource and opportunity to revisit your thinking. 

Deal in Specifics

Third, deal in specifics.[2] We rarely succeed when dealing in generalities. As an analyst, writer, and human, I find unsubstantiated, broad-based assertions to be damaging, distasteful, and unhelpful. While I value multiple viewpoints, I want people to have reasons and logic behind those views. Avoid the complacency of going along with a new idea, or abandoning your own, without understanding, at some level, the reasons and mechanism. 

As Seneca said, “Everything hangs on one’s thinking…”

[1] Ironically, just because someone asks you to disagree with their ideas or alternatives, it doesn’t mean they really want to hear them…

[2] This references number 8 from the post “Ten Observations of Human Behavior and Learning” which is “When we deal in specifics, we rarely fail.”

1 Comment

  1. Lawrence B Schiamberg

    June 16, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    Brooks Mendell has an almost uncanny way of clearly and concisely developing useful recommendations for practitioner decision making in a variety of fields. As with his previous essays, he has done it again! Congratulations, Brooks.