The Practice & Art of Thinking

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I normally would present the complete ‘picture’ – in this case, the ‘method’ for problem solving – and then explain what I mean by the individual components of the method. This assumes that the method consists of a combined set of components, which is the case here.

I am using this approach for the simple reason that I think the ‘journey’ (to use an over-used term) is important, allowing us to develop and visualise a personal version of the whole, which would be negated if presented with the conclusion upfront. I will add, many principles of the method have already been touched on throughout this blog.

The method consists of a mix of concepts and specific principles. In this post I will be looking briefly at aspects of the concept of ‘Reason’.

The notion ‘reason’ is important but we tend to park it in the ‘hard basket’ for the simple reason that it has connotations of ‘philosophy’ and such discussion can have the feeling of talking to someone who has forgotten to take their medication – it all seems a bit ‘random’ – as some New Zealanders would say.

Let us quickly look at why reason is important. A great example is that captured in one of Popper’s books (title at end of post), where he suggests that a healthy society is one that is open to ideas and reason. In contrast, non-open societies are (as Popper states) ‘barbaric’, with no capacity for sympathy or understanding for others and diversity of opinion (I could not agree more. We can currently see this happening in our world).

urlWithout the ability to reason, we cannot progress and understand the world around us. We reason to consciously make sense of things and to establish and verify facts. This is exactly what one needs to do to get to grips with any problem situation.

We tend to confuse the term ‘reason’ with logic and use them interchangeably but they are different. To explain, we can use the example of the difference between movement and locomotion. All locomotion is movement but not all movement is locomotion. A tree moves but it does not locomote because it is rooted in the ground. Likewise, all logic is reason but not all reason conforms to the standards of logic.

If logic is the map of what’s really “out there”, reason is the process of trying to read and follow the map. Using another example – reason is the application of logic to one’s perception of the real world, like engineering is the application of physics.

Simply put, reasoning is the actual process of evaluating information and applying logic to arrive at an appropriate (correct) conclusion.

It might now be clear to see why refining our skill of reasoning is essential to good problem solving. It should be considered as the overall concept of the method of problem solving – the balancing force.

I have used the metaphor of the spinning top before (see here in relation to design thinking). We could consider reason as the overall resultant force that keeps the spinning top performing at its optimum – in this case, good problem solving could be seen as a spinning top humming away, where reason is the element that feeds all the other forces and ensures they are performing at peak condition.

From this, it is not too difficult to see why it is vital that we are eloquent at reasoning and understand the importance of reason in relation to good problem solving practice. The cartoon below by Luiz Oswaldo Carneiro Rodrigues stresses the point that data should not be forced and distorted to do what you want it to do. One needs to use reason at all times.

Treat Your Data with Reason - Not With Force. Cartoon by LOR

Treat Your Data with Reason – Not With Force. Cartoon by LOR

I look briefly at reason and ‘listening to data’ shortly in the future.

Book: By Karl Popper – The Poverty of Historicism; The Open Society and Its Enemies. First published in London in 1945, Russia in 1992 and US 2013. This book was on the Modern Library Board’s 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century. It criticizes Marx, amongst others, for relying on historicism to underpin their political philosophies.

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Visual Problem Solving

This blog has up to now explored many aspects of visual thinking directly and indirectly.

The aim was to have diversity on the topic that would explore some aspects of thinking, rationality and simply how to think better so that we can contribute positively with our interventions.

The topics have not been exhaustive, the aim was to simply map the range and diversity of how we think and make sense of the world.

I am not one for quotes, but the ones below make the point better than if I were to write an essay.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”pooh

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”

There was a long silence.

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


“Don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The point I am trying to make is that we sometimes get too clever and forget the basics and loose trust in out own capabilities. This leads us to desperately seek the magic formula out there, because we have lost the confidence in our basic abilities of thinking and making sense of the problems we are faced with.


The basic principles of thinking and asking critical questions – dumb questions – like the ones that children sometimes ask – is important and we should become confident to explore basic principles.

Visual thinking, although it might come across as a fad, I deeply believe is a very basic skill that we have lost confidence in. It is not a technique nor a method, but one of those skills that we as humans are excellent at and should reignite our innate abilities and use it with confidence.

In future posts I will be exploring more frequently issues related directly to problem solving and specifically how to use visuality to make good informed decisions.

There are tons of methods that promise to help us solve problems – I do not criticise any, I only suggest that there is a danger with any approach that promises that if you follow x and y steps this will be the panacea to all your needs.

The only caution I make is that there is the danger that one loses the basic skills to think and hands over control to a method that in many cases has been removed from ‘the context’, thereby loosing the essence of its original intention because it is being used incorrectly or applied incorrectly resulting in and creating more problems than the one’s we truly solve.

We tend to clutch at quick fixes because we deeply fear to make mistakes. This attitude was drilled into us at school. We learned that mistakes are bad, and we were punished for making them in some way. Yet, if you look at the way humans learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we had never fallen, we would never have walk. The same with thinking, we need the courage to think again.

As Toni Morrison said, if “You wanna fly, you got to give up the s..t that weighs you down.


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As promised, the solution for last weeks post is ‘Kite’. The visual makes it very simple and shows how our mind works. By having the visual, the text even seems to read differently.


We have an amazing aptitude for patterns and this is very useful and essential for conceptual thinking and problem solving. Next time you have a problem, notice how you tend to try and create images in your brain in order to make better sense of the situation you are confronted with. You do not think in text; you think in visuals and concepts.

There is also a warning – we are very good at making connections but, unfortunately, we also make connections that sometimes are simply not there.

For example: you are looking for your wallet to pay your parking and cannot find it at the exit while sitting in the car. A little while back you paid a bill in a restaurant, so you conclude that you must have left it there or dropped it somewhere.

Habitually, you remove your wallet from your back pocket (as some men do) and place it in the same place in the car every time but, because there was no place there on this occasion, you placed it somewhere else without much thought. Now that you need your wallet, you cannot find it in the usual spot.

This propensity to make connections leads us draw conclusions because we jump to a causal connection between two events because they occurred close in time. This is known as fallacious thinking.

Here is a good example – read the text quickly and answer the question:

“According to the Old Testament, how many animals of each kind did Moses load into the ark?“

Image source

Image source

The answer to the question is in fact zero. The reason is because (according to the Old Testament) it was Noah and not Moses who collected animals in pairs and loaded them onto the ark. Our mind gets caught up in the visual of the paired animals. It focuses on that image without noticing that the name was incorrect.

However, if the name was “Smith’ then we would have noticed it because both Moses and Noah are names we associate with the Old Testament and not Smith – for those that are familiar with the Bible that is.

We need to be aware of the way we think and fallacious thinking. It is why we often say that we need to think outside the box. We must break away from our biases and conditioning (and be aware of them) if we are to exploit our skills to the fullest. It is not because we have something wrong with our brain; we just need to know that this is how our brain works. Now that we know, we can do something about it and use it properly.

We take thinking for granted and, because we are so accustomed to ‘doing it’,  we do not know what it is all about, how to improve it etc. It is not an automated skill. We need to improve it and be very mindful of it – visual thinking is a skill that needs to be worked on so that we can not only take advantage of a fantastic resource at our disposal, but we will also be able to achieve things more easily and ‘see’ what we often miss.

We need to become aware of our own thinking habits and learn from them. We need to be able to move easily between ‘doing’ thinking and ‘watching’ our own thinking – the ability to operate between action and the metacognition. As John Flavell put it – thinking about thinking.

For example, the moment we realize that we are having problems understanding A, but have no problems understanding B, we are operating at the metacognition level. This skill of observing our own thinking is something we need to perfect – especially with visual thinking and pattern recognition.

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Theory of the Brain – Part 1 – why do we need theory?

I hope this post will be useful to clarify some terms. I have found that the term ‘theory’ is sometimes considered as mere speculation, guesswork or hunch.

The reason we need theories in general and of the brain in particular, is to know who we are and understand ourselves better. We also want to be able to make better decisions, gain greater insights into perception, understand our actions and, hopefully, consciousness.

What does it mean? By Caraman –

A good brain theory would also enable us to develop the ability to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Other areas that would benefit from a good brain theory would be artificial intelligence – by being able to build intelligent machines.

Before looking at our current theories of the brain, it will be useful to look at some basics and clarify what theory, model and frameworks are.

The purpose of a theory is that it guides the investigation (research). It is based on a hypothesis/proposition and backed by evidence. A theory presents an idea or concept that can be tested. It is a data-based framework that describes phenomenon. For example, in psychology, theories are used to produce models that enable us to understand human thoughts, emotions and behaviours. It not only describes the behaviour but it makes predictions about what future behaviours might be.

A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. It is a specific, testable prediction (there is a possibility to prove it false) about what you expect to happen. Converting the question into a predictive form can develop the hypothesis.

The conceptual framework links concepts to establish evidence in support of the need for research that will lead to producing a theory. If the concepts have already being linked through research then a theoretical framework exists, which can then be used as a guiding map for others to use their own research questions to test the theory from different perspectives.

A theoretical framework is a collection of interrelated concepts and is the foundation for the parameters, or boundaries, of a study.

A model is used to make predictions, stimulate thinking, and suggest ideas, to discover lever points for intervention and to validate theories. They need to be evaluated for their accuracy and prediction.

In most cases, models and theories tend to be indistinguishable. Technically, however, a model need not elaborate the reasoning of the topic it is modelling. It tends to be presented in simplified terms. In contrast, a theory will explain the why of a model. For example, the Bohr model (1915: also known as the planetary model of the atom) simply states that electrons have discrete energy levels. No explanation is given as to why. The model is now considered not to be completely correct – it approximates quantum mechanics (regarded as the correct theory of the atom) but has the virtue of being much simpler.