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How can we Think Better December 7, 2009

Posted by Ignacio Larrain in Think Better.

This is a great book by Tim Hurson in which he encourages us to think better and proposes a framework to do so. The three basic assumptions on which he bases the need for better thinking are: 1) There is always room for improvement; 2) In the world of information it is not about what we know but about how we think; and 3) Thinking is a skill that can be learned.

But even though probably most of us – if not all – agree that these assumptions are true, then why won’t we engage very often in real thinking? The author links this situation with human energy conservation mechanisms we have developed for millions of years. As our brain tries to be as efficient as it can it takes us through a series of shortcuts to reduce energy consumption. But although we gain efficiency from an energy point of view we also avoid engaging in more deep thinking. The author does not try to entirely push as away from these shortcuts but to make us more aware that many times we should engage in deeper thinking, especially when we are in need of constant innovation.

Once we engage in deeper thinking, Tim Hurson makes a distinction between reproductive and productive thinking. The first one is where we refine what is already known, meaning we can only make incremental changes. The second one is about “generating the new” and coming up with breakthrough innovations.

The author defines productive thinking as a framework for thinking better and proposes a six-step model to guide the process:

Step 1: What’s going on?

Step 2: What’s Success?

Step 3: What’s the Question?

Step 4: Generate Answers

Step 5: Forge the Solution

Step 6: Align Resources

I would recommend everyone to take a look at the process in the book (or in other blogs if someone else has talked more deeply about it) because it is very straight forward, simple and can be applied in any situation. If time to read is an issue then a good approach can be to read the summaries after each chapter to have a starting point and a sense of what we need to achieve in each step.

But even though we want to use this model or not, if we at least want to be better at productive thinking there are three specific things we must consider in order to succeed:

  • Creative and Critical Thinking. These are the black and white of good thinking. We need creative thinking to generate ideas and to expand them. We need critical thinking to analyze these ideas and select the best ones. The key is not to use them both at the same time because if done so they start cancelling each other and we lose the benefits of both ways of thinking. So a good approach is to start always with a creative view, generating as much ideas as we can without any judgment, and then change to critical thinking to analyze them, judge them and narrow the selection.
  • Stay Longer in the Question. Many times the solution to a problem is the right one, but the problem was not the one in need of a solution. The author encourages us to stay longer in this stage and to really understand what is the underlying problem. This means to be more tolerant with ambiguity and to constantly challenge assumptions. If the question is not correctly defined then all the following efforts will be worthless.

  • Good Brainstorming: Brainstorming can help us liberate our minds and let us think outside the box. There are for rules for good brainstorming:

  1. Criticism is ruled out
  2. Freewheeling is welcomed
  3. Quantity is wanted
  4. Combination and improvement are sought


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