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Thinking

Posted on: 16 April '09

A few weeks back, a regular visitor to our site, Lubna, made some interesting points on Thinking. Let me continue the discussion.

Any of us can think. We are born with that faculty, but that gets dissipated as we are not formally taught how to think. The same appears true for other inborn faculties – all of us know how to run, but those with a coach usually run better than others. All of us breathe, but those who have learnt breathing techniques formally have learnt to get more out of it than just oxygen.

In a similar manner, thinking can run in all directions, and much of it may not result in something useful. So is it possible to teach how to think systematically, so we get the results we want?

Some examples of thinking tools I have found useful:

1. Lateral thinking (Edward de Bono) – encourages thinking up multiple alternatives, not just going into depth on one – and suggests techniques to do it.

2. Six Thinking Hats (again, de Bono) – helps separate emotional responses from objective ones or distinguish inspired thinking from critical thinking. It also leads to parallel thinking (rather than adversarial thinking) where all criticize together or seek opportunities in a new idea together.

3. Nine Windows – helps us think of super-systems and sub-systems, and thus broaden our perspective. For example, if we are designing a pen, it tells us to think of people who will use our pen, the shop that displays our pen, or the crates that will ship our pens (all examples of super-systems). Useful when we need to focus on multiple stakeholder perspectives, or to understand the customer’s customer. Using this tool, we also focus on the system in the past, and how it could be in the future. Focusing on the past helps us understand why things are the way they are.

4. Systems Thinking – leads to realizing that we are part of a larger system, and the complex interrelationships between causes and consequences, Often, cause and effect are far removed in time and space, so learning from consequences does not always come naturally.

5. Ideal Final Result – helps us think on the ideal result we must aim for, and how we can get there.

6. Resources – triggers us to look for unused and probably free resources, to achieve our goals.

7. Personal Mastery – spiritual leaders and management gurus, all teach this. Covey dwells in depth on this, so does Senge.

8. Disruptive Innovation (Christensen) – well researched theories from the Harvard professor explain the success factor of innovative ideas; predicts when a startup will succeed with certain ideas, and when the incumbent is more likely to succeed.

9. Learning from Unusual Sources – a Mindtree initiative, stemming from the belief we can learn from any situation, from anybody, or from any industry. We need to develop the capability to connect experiences in one situation to another scenario where we are looking for answers.

These are just some examples of thinking tools as I have understood them, and I have seen these make a definite impact to my thinking. I agree with Lubna all thinking does not lead to innovation, just as action does not always mean progress. That’s why focus on “right” thinking can lead to right results, and some of it will be innovation. And good techniques can steer our thinking in the “right” direction!

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    Thank you very much !

    John Adair in his book “The Art of Creative Thinking – How to be innovative and develop great ideas” has also spoken about his new concept -“the Depth Mind”. He has said: “The fact that the unconscious mind plays a part in decision-making,
    problem-solving and creative thinking has been known for some time. This dimension I have named ‘the Depth Mind’, and it is arguably the most
    important element in creative thinking.”

    Also, “A person is judged not by his or her answers but by the questions they ask.”

    But are children in our schools, especially at the Primary level, encouraged to ask questions?

    Thanks and regards,

    Geetha

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    Point No. 8: Disruptive Innovation (Christensen).
    Am currently reading the book “Jalebi Management” by Mr. Shombit Sengupta and he has also spoken very interestingly about how ‘discomfort brings innovation.’

    I googled “Nine Windows” and it is sure very interesting. Thank you for telling us about it!

    But what I love most is your concept of “Learning from Unusual Sources”! Here’s where Howard Gardner’s “Synthesizing” and “Creating” minds especially really come into play?

    Sorry to strike a cynical note, but all said and done, like The Gardener said in his post “Of Groupthink And False Harmony” of 8th Jan’09, I guess as long as Groupthink is rampant in our society, we are not going to be able to make much progress?

    Thanks and regards,

    Geetha

  • Hi Kalyan,
    Thank you so much for answering the questions which I had raised. Other than Edward De Bono’s concepts, I was not aware of the other thinking tools. I love the idea of “Learning from Unusual Sources”, if we keep a truly open mind, we can learn so many things from so many different people. However application of this concept does not appear to be very easy, because it is up to each individual to practise it, unlike De Bono’s concept where people, say during a discussion, can don a particular coloured hat and think on those specific lines.
    There is one particular liftman in our office complex who inspite of having such a boring job is always smiling and always wishes us a cheerful good night, at the end of our long day. I mean, I learnt a lot from his attitude.
    I also learn a lot from the MindTree blogs. No wonder, I am a regular visitor. So is Geetha and she is so well read that I gain a lot from her comments as well.
    Cheers,
    Lubna

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Hi Lubna,

    “Learning from Unusual Sources”
    One of our favourite lessons from the Gardener – “The Power to Receive” – where our minds will have to be like valleys!

    Best regards,

    Geetha

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    How effective is “Brainwriting” as a technique to generate new ideas when compared to “Brainstorming” please? Would love to know more about this from you please.

    Thanks and regards,

    Geetha

  • Venky Ravirala

    Thank you for the discussion. I find your points to be refreshingly different and actionable.

    Although I understand the intended usage, I find cliches like “think out-side the box”, “positive thinking”, “brainstorming”, “think like a genius”, and “think by putting yourself in other persons shoes” are not really effective in guiding the thought process.

    One of my philosopher teachers said the following (which I accept as critical guidance for effective thought process):
    (a) having thoughts is different from thinking;
    (b) recognize when our thoughts have us versus when we are having to think;
    (c) we cannot NOT HAVE thoughts, but there are many situations we are unable to think; and
    (d) our “mood” influences and determines the space for our thoughts and vice versa.

    What underlies these and your points is that having a purpose (or multiple) directs our intention and hence focuses our thoughts, and having purposeful thoughts is “thinking.”

    Regards,
    Venky

  • Abhay Kumar Singh

    Mind can be imagined as a big flat ground with varying sizes of plateaus, with the plateaus height proportional to our dislikes. A thought can be imagined as a wave of water. Water naturally flows in the direction of nearest slope. A thought is of two type: a) control thought and b) data thought. A control thought has the capability to change the plateaus of mind. Like a draino used to clear clogged drains. The beauty of designing a control-thought is to know the characteristics of “clog” elements in the target minds. A planned sequence of these control thoughts can used to train a mind for systematic thinking in the desired way.

    Abhay