The Practice & Art of Thinking

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Announcing SenseCatcher Problem-Solving Software

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You might have noticed that I have not being blogging for awhile. The reason is that I have been very busy with the final touches of our new visual problem solving software that will be launching soon. There is quite a bit involved in launching software and this includes the website. I am hoping that the launch will be within the next 2-3 months.

This blog will also change in look. It will be integrated with the website but you will still be able to access it via the old link.

I am also busy writing a white paper and possibly an e-book on problem solving /visual thinking and the software.

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If you are interested in being notified when the software will be launched and/or if you want to receive our free e-book/white paper, head over to and leave your email address. Your personal details will be kept confidential, don’t worry.

You might be interested to know what the software does. Briefly, SenseCatcher is a visual tool that will enable you to unlock and make sense of complex problems or situations and harness the power of visual thinking to target core issues with ease and confidence every time. Often we are overloaded with ideas, documents, spreadsheets, half-finished proposals and so on.

SENSE CATCHER ORGANISES THIS CLUTTER VISUALLY. Your screen becomes a high-tech feltboard, with high-impact imagery and smart tools so you can attach links, recordings, notes etc and also generate coloured heatmaps that make the big issues stand out. Doesn’t matter what industry or sector you are from, SenseCatcher will help to visualize the problem-situation more dynamically than using PostIt notes or mindmaps.

I’ll let you know more about the features of the software closer to launch. Meanwhile, head over to to register your interest.

sensecatcher contact us

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Tools for Problem Solving – Listening to the data

When we want to solve problems, we need to find out what we are about to do and, to achieve this, we need to ‘listen’ before we take action. This will take us to the data.

To ‘listen’ means to be on the ‘outside’ and by this I mean we need to suspend all forms of judgement. To be objective without any form of preconceived ideas is difficult.

Image by LOR

Image by LOR

We need to have empathy and imagine, as vividly as possible, the data we are collecting in whichever form it might be (text, video, speech, audio, visual etc.). We must try to enter into the teller’s (so to speak) experience as much as possible – imaginatively, respectfully and non-judgementally – before we make an assessment, evaluate and argue. We must collect the data – hard to do but possible.

Without this stage of truly getting to understand what the issues are, not what we think they are, we are not able to solve the root cause of the problem.

The scientific method is the foundation of good problem solving and, for it to work, we need to ‘listen’ to the data. We need to make sure the data is not distorted or contaminated in any way. Our personal worldviews tend to play tricks on the data and we need to be very mindful and aware of this. After all, ‘listening’ is the basic rule of fairness in any conversation.

To be a good listener is very important but, unfortunately, a rare trait. Listening is an act of mental unselfishness, if done correctly. We just need to be aware of how we listen and catch ourselves when we start to make assumptions and draw conclusions while we listen.

Listening does not contradict asking questions and being critical. These are parts of the same thing – honesty.

This brings us to the second stage of collecting of data – to ask critical questions. This does not mean being aggressive, nasty or unpleasant – it simply means making sure the data is not distorted and making sure you have understood the data for what it is, rather than what meaning you might have superimposed onto it and assumptions you might have inadvertently created.

Image source unknown.

Image source unknown.

This active inquiry process is known as logic. This happens after you have collected the data (with an open mind).

Basic logic requires us to demand three things of any argument:
• Clear definitions of terms;
• True data (premises); and
• Logic consistent proofs.

These rules of logic can be applied in any circumstances and to any topic.
No discipline has a special type of logic – logic is logic.

In the process of solving a problem, what we are doing is developing a theory that might explain the problem situation – this then becomes the ‘problem narrative’. We then test the theory by seeing how much it can explain and how robust it is. The theory has to explain the weak and strong points.

Remember – when collecting data about the situation in which you are wanting to make an intervention (like solving a problem) you need to ‘listen’ to the data and make sure you do not contaminate it with personal worldviews

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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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Visualisation and Problem Solving – use your brain for what it was designed for.

The next few posts will deal with visuality and problem solving.

When you try to solve a problem in your head, it can be difficult, especially if the problem is relatively complex.

Try doing the following calculation in your head:


This is not easy and the rate of error is quite high. The solution – solve it with pen and paper; using a calculator is not the point here.

Why is it difficult? It is difficult because of our cognitive capacity – there is only so much that we can hold with conscious attention at any one time. This is known as cognitive overload and was highlighted in George A. Miller’s 1956 paper The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.


Further research verifies that the number of items we retain in our short-term memory varies depending on whether it is digits, letters, words or even familiar chunks of information. Of interest is the limited capacity of our cognition – it is still somewhere between 4 and 7 items, so Miller was correct in general terms.

This is why we should maximize what we were designed for and use our superb visual abilities, rather than posture about how smart we are by ‘doing things in our heads’!

Going back to the calculation, the obvious solution is to use pen and paper as it frees up cognitive load. You simply assign the memory capacity to the piece of paper, leaving your visual cognition to maximize your thinking for problem solving, which is a skill that needs perfecting, especially since we have been neglecting it as a society.

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The Essence Of Life Is Creativity – But Some Countries Are More Creative Than Others

I recently overheard the statement “the essence of life is creativity” by two people in a coffee shop in Bangkok. I did not think much of it at the time but, since then, I have been thinking about it and could not agree more.

I seem to remember that the statement was made in the context of fashion. Two young ladies were talking about how they love fashion – so, nothing seriously philosophical. This is probably another reason I remember it, because of the profound statement said quite lightly.

I consider creativity to be the driving force that propels us forward. Creativity is the emergent property that drives us to solve problems of all sorts, from simple everyday problems to difficult and complex ones.  It is the creativity drive that makes us face the unknown future. It is the force behind an intelligent humanity.

A study conducted by the Martin Prosperity Institute (published in January 2011) ranks 82 countries on creativity. According to the study, there are strong correlations between creativity and economic progress, human development and happiness, among other factors.

The Global Creativity Index (GCI) is based on three human factors:

  1. How technologically savvy is the country?
  2. How capable is the workforce?
  3. How open are the people to new ideas?

Top 25 Global Creativity Index rankings by Country. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report

Top 25 Global Creativity Index rankings by Country. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report. 
The same information depicted in a Map. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The same information depicted in a Map. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The graphs below show the strong correlation between creativity and economic output, happiness and human factors (technology, tolerance and talent) of the various countries.

The GCI and economic output. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI and economic output. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI and Happiness. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI and happiness. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI and human development. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI and human development. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI economic output correlations. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

The GCI economic output correlations. Source: Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index report.

I think that individually we are essentially creative (in varying degrees). It is creativity that makes us address ‘tomorrow’, knowing that we will be able to overcome the unknown. Without that innate capacity, we would be stagnant and remain primitive. I know this is a big statement but it is how I define creativity – curiosity and the ability to visualize an alternative to the current state one is in.

Great civilizations are those that nurture creativity and encourage its people to fearlessly deal with the uncertainty that is involved with the creative process – the sweet spot (as discussed here) is hard to master and requires encouragement from the environment (the society) and tenacity from the individual.

One could explore this topic at many levels – I might just revisit this later.