“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead
Month: March 2022
Thinking about thinking
The neural pathways humans use to, say, recognize a friend’s face are different from those we use to understand why the square of the length of a right triangle’s hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squared lengths of its sides.
As Daniel Kahneman explains in his mind-blowing Thinking, Fast and Slow, the former is, for us, quick and effortless (thinking fast) while the latter is a lot slower and takes much more effort (thinking slow).
This disparity of effort is one reason some people accept some profoundly wrong ideas while rejecting others that are correct beyond any reasonable doubt: The attractive-but-wrong ideas rely on the thinking-fast pathway, requiring minimal effort. Meanwhile … if you had a million bucks riding on the outcome, could you, on your own, with just pencil, paper, and a five-minute deadline, prove the Pythagorean Theorem?
Anyway … while thinking-slow is intrinsically hard, it doesn’t have to be quite so hard. It’s possible to jump-start the process through what we in IT might call patterns – pre-defined approaches to thinking through different sorts of situation.
Over my accumulating years I’ve collected quite a few of these, and as they’re the backbone of Keep the Joint Running I figured you might find my compilation useful.
What follows is the list. The extent to which I elaborate on anything in it in future posts will depend on the feedback I get from the KJR community (that would be you). So without any further ado, and in no particular order:
Outline Thinking: Top-down decomposition. Outlines may be taxonomic (breakdown at all levels is based on the same dimension of analysis) or attributional (different outline levels are based on different dimensions of analysis).
Mind Mapping: Like outlining, but with many-to-many relationships.
Systems Thinking: How different components interact and relate to each other – process flows, algorithms, rules, feed-forward and feedback loops.
Stochastic Thinking: How randomness influences and accounts for outcomes.
Anti-anecdotal Thinking: Recognizing that a single event does not represent a trend. Related to Stochastic Thinking.
Narrative Thinking: Connecting the dots in story-telling format to see if everything hangs together.
Geometric Thinking: Step-by-step logic, from premises to conclusions. Similar to Narrative Thinking but more rigorous.
Editorial Thinking: knowing what to leave out; clarity vs completeness. Similar to Narrative Thinking but with less nuance and more emphasis on ease of comprehension.
Causal Thinking: Keeping means and ends straight; keeping correlation vs causation straight.
Proportionality perspective: Placing metrics and measurements on a defined scale; insisting on the denominators that turn numbers into ratios.
Metaphorical Thinking: How an unknown circumstance resembles a known one; what our knowledge of the known one suggests about the unknown one.
Fractal / Recursive Thinking: Metaphorical thinking applied to observations at differing scales.
Pattern-based Thinking: Like Metaphorical Thinking, but more rigorous.
Trade-off Thinking: Recognizing that sometimes, better is the best you can achieve, and that an improvement in one dimension can cause deterioration in other dimensions.
Scientific Thinking: Having increased or decreased confidence in a proposition based on whether reliable evidence fails or succeeds in falsifying it.
Models and Thought Experiments: Exploring how a situation would play out by putting someone or something in a defined situation and applying what we know about how they would behave in that situation to predict what the results would be.
Political Thinking: Choosing what ideas to accept and reject based on what you think those in power prefer, or that members of your peer group will like.
Empathic Thinking: Imagining how others might feel if presented with the idea. Similar to Political Thinking, but nicer. Similar to Thought Experiments, but emotional.
Plausibility testing: Assessing whether an explanation passes the don’t-be-ridiculous test, keeping in mind that quantum physics doesn’t pass it.
Ridicule: When you don’t like an idea but can’t find anything wrong with it. Akin to Plausibility Thinking, but malicious.
Bob’s last word: The point of this list isn’t for you to decide which ones you like the best (hint: as a card-carrying member of Sarcastics Anonymous, Ridicule is my favorite). No, the point is to choose the thinking mode best-suited to the situation you’re dealing with.
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Bob’s sales pitch: Want to be a great leader? I can’t help you. I doubt anyone else can help you either.
But if what you want is to be a better leader tomorrow than you were yesterday, get yourself a copy of Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World. According to one reviewer, “This should be mandatory reading for any IT manager and above.” And as one executive told me after attending my leadership seminar that’s based on Leading IT, “I’ve attended at least a dozen of these, and this is the first one that wasn’t utter B.S.”