HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR THINKING SKILLS

Ajan Raghunathan

"The whole of Science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking"

- Albert Einstein

  1. Introduction
  2. The Purpose of Thinking
  3. Can We Improve Our Thinking Ability?
  4. Why Should We Improve Our Thinking Skills
  5. Misconceptions and Wrong Notions Regarding Thinking
  6. Errors in Thinking
  7. Thinking Formulae
  8. Lateral Thinking

Introduction

Thinking is the highest mental activity present in man. All human achievements and progress are simply the products of thought. The evolution of culture, art, literature, science and technology are all the results of thinking.

Thought and action are inseparable - they are actually the two sides of the same coin. All our deliberate action starts from our deliberate thinking. For a man to do something, he should first see it in his mind's eye -- he should imagine it, think about it first, before he can do it. All creations-- whether artistic, literal or scientific --first occur in the creator's mind before it is actually given life in the real world.

 

The Purpose of Thinking

The purpose of thinking, paradoxically, is to arrive at a state where thinking is no more necessary at all. In other words, thinking starts with a problem and ends in a solution. Thus, thinking is a tool for adapting ourselves to the physical and social environment in which we are in.

Can We Improve Our Thinking Ability?

Dr. Edward de Bono says that thinking CAN be improved just like any skill because thinking according to him is a skill. He has developed many useful techniques for training thinking skills.

Why Should We Improve Our Thinking Skills

The benefits of developing thinking ability are manifold. By developing one's thinking skills one can make achievements; can become successful; can shine in social life; can attain emotional, social and economic maturity and so on. By developing one's thinking abilities it is possible to transform one's aggressive tendencies, bad temper and other negative tendencies creatively and constructively. It has been found by Dr.Edward de Bono that when school students were taught to think effectively, their ill-temper and aggressive tendencies reduced significantly. Clinical Psychologists have also found that those who have neuroses are poor thinkers compared to normals. Neurotics scored significantly lower scores in decision making, problem solving and creative thinking. Interestingly, when neurotics were taught to think effectively, they showed a remarkable reduction in their neurosis.

 

Misconceptions Regarding Thinking

There are a lot of misconceptions about thinking even in highly educated people. These notions have been deeply rooted in the society and thus have become very detrimental to the development of thinking skills. It is time and enough that we removed them. The most important of such misconceptions are:

Misconception No.1:

The present education system develops and enhances thinking and so the more educated you are the better thinker you are.

Fact:

Actually, education suppresses free thinking. Creative thinking has almost no place in current education. Moreover, education even destroys creative thinking abilities by its over emphasis on logical thnking and critical thinking which are relatively lower types of human thinking.

Since reasoning, argument, problem solving are given over importance a need to become correct and successful all the time is developed in the student. Again, our present education system is so information oriented that it gives ready-made answers. This kills the student's natural tendency to explore, experiment and to experience. Thus, the highly educated person ends up having lesser ability to think creatively although he/she may have a lot of information at his/her disposal and also have admirable abilities in logical and critical thinking.

Misconception No.2:

Less Educated or Uneducated can never become good thinkers.

Fact:

Actually, less educated display higher abilities in creative thinking. This is because they do not have an inflated ego that demands cent percent correct answers or success in all endeavors. Again, they do not have ready-made-answers (i.e., book-answers) and so are forced to explore, experiment and experience things themselves. This empowers them to go through less explored answers and even find original answers.

Misconception No.3:

IQ and thinking ability are the same. The more IQ one has, the better thinking ability one has. On the contrary, those who have lower IQ have only low thinking abilities.

Fact:

It is true that those who have greater thinking ability, as a rule, have high IQ. But this does not mean that all those who have high IQ are good thinkers. Usually high IQ people use their thinking skills for logical thinking, arguments, critical thinking. They very rarely use creative thinking. Thus high IQ is actually a blockage to creative thinking. It has also been found that those who have average IQ can become better thinkers.

Misconception No.4:

Thinking ability, decision making ability and problem solving ability are inherent and there is very little we can do to develop these.

Fact:

This is the most terrible misconception regarding thinking. In fact, Dr.Edward de Bono (and also many others) have proved that thinking is a skill that can be enhanced by training and practice. Thus decision making, problem solving and creative thinking can be developed and improved.

 

 

Errors in Thinking

It is necessary that we should be aware of the errors in thinking. There are five such errors in thinking: 1. Partialism 2. Adversary Thinking 3. Time Scale Error 4. Initial Judgement and 5.Arrogance and Conceit.

 

  1. Partialism
    This error occurs when the thinker observes the problem through one perspective only. That is, the thinker examines only one or two factors of the problem and arrives at a premature solution.
  2. Adversary Thinking
    This is a "you are wrong. So, I should be right." type of reasoning. Politicians are the masters in this type of thinking and they use it to their advantage.
  3. Time Scale Error
    This is a kind of partialism in thinking in which the thinker sees the problem from a limited time-frame. It can be likened to short-sightedness.
  4. Initial Judgement
    Here, the thinker becomes very subjective. Instead of considering the issue or problem objectively, the thinker approaches it with prejudice or bias.
  5. Arrogance and Conceit
    This error is sometimes called the "Village Venus Effect" because like the villagers who think that the most beautiful girl in the world is the most beautiful girl in their village, the thinker believes that there is no better solution other than that he has already found. This blocks creativity. Not only individuals but societies and even the whole mankind sometimes fall prey to this error. For example, before Einstein, the whole scientific community (and thus the whole mankind) believed that time was absolute.

 

Thinking Formulae

Dr. de Bono has devised some thinking formulae to help us practice thinking as a skilll. Most important of them are: 1. AGO 2. CAF 3. PMI 4.OPV 5.APC

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    1. AGO
      AGO stands for Aims Goals Objectives. Since deliberate thinking is actually the manifestation of deliberate use of Will Power, it is important that the thinker should be well aware of the aims, goals and objectives. In other words, a sense of direction is required if one is to use his thinking effectively.
    2. CAF
      CAF stands for Consider All Factors. It reminds us that all factors or parameters of a problem should be considered to analyze it. By doing so, one can avoid the error of partialism in thinking.
    3. PMI
      PMI is the abbreviation for Plus Minus Interesting. When making decisions, this technique is very useful. First write down all the plus (i.e., positive) suggestions or aspects of a solution. Then write down all the minus (i.e., negative) aspects. Lastly, write down the interesting ideas or suggestions or aspects of the same. Now it is easy to arrive at the best suitable solution of the issue or problem at hand.
       
    4. OPV
      OPV means Other People's Views. In this technique, the thinker thinks from the perspectibve of the different people involved in or affected by the decision or solution. For example, a change in syllabus mainly affects the students, teachers, management and parents either directly or indirectly. So, before implementing a new syllabus, we should think from the perspective of all these people. This is especially important when the decision is enacted upon and through other people.
    5. APC
      APC is the short form for Alternatives Possibilities Choices. In this technique, the thinker generates as much alternatives, possibilities and choices for the solution of the problem. The best suitable one can then be selected by applying PMI or OPV.

     

    Lateral Thinking

    Dr. de Bono speaks about two types of thinking -- Vertical thinking and Lateral thinking. Vertical thinking is high probability thinking, whereas lateral thinking is low probability thinking. In the former type, the thinker selects the most logical solution possible. This will be the one that is the most used and the most tested one. For example, suppose you want to cut a cake or hard boiled egg into two. Using a knife or a sharp blade to cut it is the most probable and most logical solution. But there are other less probable ways: for example, you can use a twine. The former is an example of a solution arrived at Vertical thinking while the later is an example of a solution arrived at using Lateral thinking.

    Dr. de Bono argues that creativity comes from Lateral thinking. He also says that it is possible to improve lateral thinking ( and thus creativity) by deliberate application and practice of the techniques he has devised. He gives two main techniques for improving our problem solving by lateral thinking:

    1. Divide the Problem into Small Sub-Problems
      This allows the thinker to perceive the problem in detail because he is able to approach each sub-problem individually and thus he is able to consider more parameters.
    2. Move Attention from One Part of the Problem to Another Part
      When we move our attention from one part of the problem to another, it is possible to view the problem from a new perspective. This would in turn help you solve the problem easily.

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