Conceptual Thinking: Definition, How To Use It and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Soft skills like time management, problem-solving and communication are valuable for employees at all levels of a company to develop and use. Thinking conceptually can greatly improve your understanding of your role in the organisation and its work products. Understanding the definition and applications of this skill can help you develop and use it in your professional life. In this article, we explain what conceptual thinking is, describe how to think conceptually and offer examples of this skill in the workplace.

What is conceptual thinking?

Conceptual thinking refers to the practice of connecting abstract, disparate ideas to deepen your understanding, develop new ideas and reflect on past decisions. A conceptual thinker can easily understand abstract concepts, such as a nonlinear digital process or a complicated business. They can easily connect unrelated concepts to find creative ideas and reflect on previous decisions to improve future outcomes. This soft skill is often valuable for individuals in a range of positions within an organisation.

Related: Conceptual Skills: Definition, Steps, Types and Examples

Why is thinking conceptually important?

Thinking conceptually can help you boost your work performance and job satisfaction. If you practise thinking conceptually, you can find and implement innovative solutions to business challenges because you're able to connect abstract ideas. Often, you find deeper satisfaction and commitment to your job because you understand the value that the specific work you do brings to the organisation and customer.

Related: 9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How to Develop Them

Who uses this skill?

Company managers and other leaders often foster and apply their ability to think conceptually, but most professionals can benefit from developing this skill. It's important for managers and other company leaders to recognise the connections between different departments and efforts to maintain the unity of the company. To do that, it's important for them to recognise the importance of each role in the company. Professionals can enhance their work performance by practising the skill to improve their problem-solving and abstract thinking skills.

When an individual thinks conceptually, they're using their large-scale thinking skills. Employees who have these skills understand how different parts of the company work and function together, allowing them to consider abstract ideas critically, think creatively, draw connections and identify relationships between departments of the company and anticipate problems, all towards the aim of meeting the company's larger goals. Essentially, the ability to think conceptually allows employees to see how the company functions.

How to think conceptually

You can develop and improve your ability to think conceptually with practice and focus. Consider the following steps to develop your conceptual thought processing and boost your work performance and dedication:

1. Observe leadership

Managers and other company leaders usually apply their ability to think conceptually to their daily tasks and responsibilities. Consider observing how the leadership in the company identifies unrelated concepts and finds connections between them. You can observe how they apply processes from one department to another to determine if a new procedure boost work performance.

Related: 10 Leadership Role Examples (With Functions of Leadership)

2. Use problems as case studies

When faced with a work problem, consider using it as an opportunity to conduct a case study. You can start by analysing how other departments within the company might handle the issue. Reflect on past issues and determine what was effective and what was not. Look for other abstract connections to devise a unique solution.

3. Seek outside knowledge

The ability to think conceptually often depends on abstract connections. Consider seeking outsider information to address insider issues. You can look at companies outside of your field or industry to determine how they handle issues. Find out how a combination of ideas can produce an entirely new outcome.

4. Stay updated on the latest trends

Keep yourself updated about changes or developments in your industry. Find out how leading organisations in the field are innovating products, work processes or other business elements to improve their business operations. Think about how you might apply some of these strategies to your own work.

5. Apply new practices

Once you have identified a range of interesting ideas, processes or procedures from within and outside your industry, consider applying some to your job. Then, determine what works and what doesn't. Make sure to track progress and assess your experiments for continued improvement.

6. Discuss concepts with colleagues

Consider discussing concepts with your colleagues at work. Ask them what connections they see within the company that can improve products and work performance. You can then propose new concepts and ask how they might apply these ideas to their own work.

Related: What Are Some Common Career Development Goals Examples

7. Look for a mentor

Find a mentor in your industry. You can look for someone who regularly applies their ability to think conceptually and who can help you develop the skill for yourself. Observe how they apply the skill to their own work and consider asking for guidance as you connect unrelated concepts and develop unique solutions.

8. Learn about the company

Understand how the organisation or company functions. Understand how each department supports the others and how employees in the company work towards the same goal. You can spend time with departments you rarely interact with and learn about their contributions to the organisation's mission.

9. Think abstractly

Abstract thinking is a cornerstone of conceptual skills. It allows you to visualise concepts that aren't actually present. This is the significance of large-scale thinking: you're able to think about what's not physically in front of you and take a broader approach to develop solutions.

Related: What Are Analytical Skills and Why Are They Important for Employment?

Examples of conceptual thinking

The ability to think conceptually can take many forms depending on the specifics of your job and industry. Consider using the following examples to apply this skill at work:

  • Reflect on project outcomes: After completing a project, you can take a moment to reflect on what worked well and what you could improve. Consider the outcome for yourself and other stakeholders.

  • Create organisational frameworks and models: Make flow charts, mind maps or other illustrations of the organisation's hierarchical framework. Visualising the organisation can help you consider all internal stakeholders as you work.

  • Evaluate the reach of proposed solutions: Before you apply a solution, think about how the outcome impacts other, seemingly unconnected members of the organisation.

  • Determine how your work supports the whole organisation: Think about how your day-to-day responsibilities and tasks contribute to the overall success of the company.

  • Practise identifying the purpose and context: Whenever your employer gives you a new assignment or project, consider its context in the larger organisation and its purpose in promoting the company.

  • Apply different ideas to projects: Use the knowledge you've learned from mentors and other resources to come up with innovative concepts for your work.

  • Create operational plans: Make sure your operations align with the organisational goals. Evaluate and develop improved operational plans regularly to optimise your time and deliverables.

Highlighting your ability to think conceptually when applying for jobs

There are a number of ways you can show employers that you have the ability to think conceptually during the application or interview process. These ways include the following:

On your resume

Highlighting your ability to think conceptually on your resume can make you a more attractive candidate, especially if you're applying for a management or senior-level position. To highlight these skills on your resume, consider the specific skills that most apply to the job you're interested in. Include these skills in your resume's skills section. You can also mention these skills throughout your work history descriptions. Consider mentioning how these skills brought results at work.

Related: Selecting the Right Resume Skills in 5 Simple Steps

On your cover letter

You can also highlight your ability to think conceptually in the body of your cover letter. You can discuss how this skill helped you improve your work performance. You can also mention how this skill helped the company improve its business processes. Be sure to provide specific examples.

In an interview

During an interview, a hiring manager may ask questions that allow you to demonstrate your ability to think conceptually. For instance, a hiring manager may ask you to provide a specific solution to a hypothetical problem. Consider taking the time to prepare for these types of questions prior to the interview to make sure you can answer them effectively.

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