How To Develop Conceptual Thinking

Learning knowledge and skills is like standing in the middle of a forest, surrounded by trees: It’s easy to spot details but hard to see patterns. For students to think conceptually, they need opportunities to head up to the mountaintop, pause, and take in the entire forest. They need the chance to search for big ideas—to generalize, summarize, and draw conclusions by looking at their learning in a holistic way.

Conceptual thinking is the practice of connecting abstract, disparate ideas to deepen understanding, create new ideas and reflect on past decisions. Conceptual thinkers can understand abstract concepts, like the function of a complicated business or a nonlinear digital process, easily.

Conceptual Thinking Mini-Lessons: Introduction and Explanation

Why is conceptual thinking important?

Conceptual thinking is important for better work performance and job satisfaction. Employees who practice conceptual thinking can often find and implement creative and innovative solutions to business challenges because theyre able to connect abstract ideas. Often, conceptual thinkers find deeper satisfaction and commitment to their jobs because they understand the value that the specific work they do brings to the company and customer.

What is conceptual thinking?

Conceptual thinking is the practice of connecting abstract, disparate ideas to deepen understanding, create new ideas and reflect on past decisions. Conceptual thinkers can understand abstract concepts, like the function of a complicated business or a nonlinear digital process, easily. They can connect disparate concepts to find innovative ideas and reflect on past decisions to improve future outcomes. This soft skill is valuable for a variety of reasons and useful for people in a range of positions within a company.

Who uses conceptual thinking?

Conceptual thinking is often fostered and applied among managers and other company leaders, but every employee can benefit from developing conceptual thinking skills. Managers and other leaders must recognize the connections between various departments and efforts to maintain company unity. However, all employees can improve their work performance by practicing conceptual thinking to improve their abstract thinking and problem-solving skills.

How to start thinking conceptually

You can develop and improve your conceptual thinking abilities with focus and practice. Use these steps to improve your conceptual thought processing and increase your work performance and dedication:

1. Observe leadership

Leaders often apply conceptual thinking to their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Observe how the leadership in your company identifies disparate concepts and finds connections between them. Watch how they apply processes from one department to another to see if a new procedure improves work performance.

2. Use challenges as case studies

When faced with a work challenge, use the issue as an opportunity for a conceptual thinking case study. Begin by considering how other departments within the organization might handle the problem. Reflect on past challenges and consider what was effective and what was not. Find other abstract connections to create a unique solution.

3. Seek outside knowledge

Conceptual thinking depends on abstract connections. Seek outsider information to solve insider problems. Look to organizations outside of your industry to see how they handle challenges. See how a combination of ideas can create an entirely new outcome.

4. Stay up-to-date on industry trends

Keep informed about changes in your own industry. Discover how leading companies in the field are innovating work processes, products or other business elements to improve their operations. Consider how you might apply some of these practices to your own work.

5. Apply new practices

Once youve identified a variety of interesting processes, ideas and procedures from within and without your industry, try applying some to your job to see what works and what doesnt. Track your progress and reflect on your experiments for continued improvement.

6. Discuss concepts with colleagues

Ask your colleagues what connections they see within the organization that can improve work performance and product. Propose new concepts and ask how your colleagues might apply these ideas to their own work.

7. Find a mentor

Seek out a mentor in your industry. Find someone who practices conceptual thinking regularly and who can help you develop the skill for yourself. Watch how they apply conceptual thinking to their own work and ask for guidance as you connect disparate concepts and find unique solutions.

8. Learn about the organization

Understand how your company or organization functions. Develop a clear image of how each department supports the others and how everyone in the company works toward the same goal. If possible, spend time with departments you dont normally interact with and learn about their contributions to the companys mission.

Examples of conceptual thinking

Conceptual thinking can take many forms depending on the specifics of your job and industry. Use these examples to apply conceptual thinking to your work:


How do you demonstrate conceptual thinking?

Problem Solving
  1. Able to ignore extraneous information.
  2. Broad thinking.
  3. Critical thinking.
  4. Breaking down a project into manageable pieces.
  5. Decision making.
  6. Executing solutions.
  7. Formulating effective courses of action.
  8. Logical thinking.

What is conceptual thinking skills?

Conceptual skills are thinking skills which let you grasp complex ideas and come up with answers for difficult problems. These skills are valuable because they allow people to find many solutions for different challenges through deliberate thought and abstract reasoning.

What is the difference between analytical and conceptual thinking?

Conceptual thinking is involved in discovering new relationships. Analytical thinking is involved in examining known relationships. Something must be conceived before it can be analyzed. The two are intertwined in creative thinking and both are necessary.

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