E-commerce and Daily Thinking – A Thinkibility Nibble

In our blog post Daily Thinking – Discovering Patterns we showed some alarming daily thinking habits, like assuming that there is a linear, unambiguously relation between a cause and an effect. For example, it is assumed that increasing e-commerce will reduce traffic. People will less … Continue reading

Future non-jobs – Thinkibility Nibble

gettyimages-128810949According to Oxford University, 47% of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years. Could you think up which ones?

Take any profession (doctor, mechanic, teacher, nurse, etc) and/or any branch (consumer products, construction, finance, retail)  and confront it in a matrix, one for one, with


Could you imagine what jobs will disappear as a result of (a combination) of new technologies?

If you take as working hypothesis that all intermediary jobs (bank employees, notaries, tax officers)  will disappear, what jobs will likely cease to exist by 2040?


Why not check out the blog post The DIY of the Future for inspiration?

Cold Cases –


What could we learn from solved cold cases? What has caused that the case is solved after years of investigations without results? What were the reasons that a solution was waiting for discovery, but never did? Solved cold cases are illustrative for how we think wrongly.

In September 1961, 25-year-old Lucy Johnson, mother of one, was at her home in Surrey, British Colombia. She was not seen the next day. Or the next. Or for the next 52 years.
For one reason or another, Lucy was not reported missing until four years later. Obviously, this raised questions, and suspicion fell on her husband Marvin. Police even dug up the husband’s backyard in search of a body, but they found nothing. Decades passed, Marvin died, and there seemed no hope of solving the case.


According to Wikipedia, a cold case is a crime or an accident that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect.

However, it is not always new and fresh information that helps to solve the case, but new perceptions. Even new information tends to be interpreted in old perceptions. Information is not perception.

Lucy’s daughter Linda, a small child at the time of her mother’s vanishing posted ads in newspapers and other media outlets in search of clues. Then in 2013, she received a phone call. The woman on the other end of the line claimed to be Linda’s stepsister, whom she’d never known existed. The woman said their mother Lucy was alive and well, living with a whole new family in the Yukon.


Sometimes a viable suspect has been overlooked or simply ignored due to then-flimsy circumstantial evidence, the presence of a likelier suspect (who is later proven to be innocent), or a tendency of investigators to zoom in on someone else to the exclusion of other possibilities (which goes back to the likelier suspect angle)—known as “tunnel vision”

However unbelievable the claim sounded, Linda followed up it. Sure enough, her mother was not the victim of foul play as suspected. She’d simply fled to another life. Marvin had abused her, claimed Lucy, and when she’d tried to leave with her daughter, he’d stopped her. So she just took off on her own.


In our view, solved cold cases are excellent vehicles to study thinking methods, as what students and scientists are supposed to do at the  Thinkibility University. At its East Wing they are excellent in Reverse Engineering of Thinking Strategies we wrote earlier about.

When Linda visited the caller to check whether the woman in question was indeed her Laura, she recognized her mother immediately.


The people working there are not trained as criminal investigators but will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques. Not only to improve forensic investigations but improving thinking methods in general. For scientific research as well for daily practical thinking.

As you might notice in the following mind map, little attention is given to the role of perception in this example of a  Crime Scene Investigator Job Description:


The following books could be good starting points to be studied by the East Wing:

Solving cold cases happen when limiting thoughts and behaviors are challenged.

But how to challenge “limiting thoughts and behaviours”?






Patterns in Medicine


We came across a booklet that could be a good example for the kind of studies by the envisioned Thinkibility University. At its West Wing, scientists dissect the basic thinking patterns in a scientific discipline.

Siddhartha Mukherjee was asking himself: If there is a science of medicine, then science has laws. Physics has laws. Chemistry has laws. Biology has laws.

The simple question was: If that’s the case, then what are the laws of medicine? These were not meant to be universal commandments. These were meant to be explorations about principles that might hold true about medicine today and about medicine in the future. That was the framework for this book.

Law One : A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.

Law Two: “Normals” teach us rules; “outliers” teach us laws

Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias

Watch or read here an interview with him about the book. You could also read the Ted book: The Laws of Medicine Field – Notes from an Uncertain Science

For us, Gijs and Asa, it is not the description of the laws of a scientific discipline that interests us – how interesting they are by itself but the possibility they give to escape from it. Once spelled out, laws are just vehicles to set up new approaches.

In short, at the West Wing of the Thinkibility University, they are thinking laterally about science.


We have earlier written about patterns in science and possible escapes from them in the following blogposts:

Our next post about the topic “Patterns in Science” will be about Patterns in Law. Could it be that in Western law assumptions are hidden that hinders us in modern times?

Not to miss?  Follow Thinkibility. The blog about Thinking, Creativity, Innovation and Design.


Ish – Thinking – Thinkibility Boost

As an introduction to a series of blogposts about conceptual thinking we will start by paying attention to “ISH-Thinking”. A concept is an abstract pattern in the brain that stands for some regular, recurrent aspect of the world, and to which  any number of different words can be attached. Sometimes ago we already pointed out the relation between thinking and language, as in our posts How Thinking Patterns are CreatedBanging the World into Sorting Boxes and Key Concepts as Optical Filters. As we see in the picture below a toddler is confronted with a an almost insoluble problem. He has to place a square block in a box, which, however, only has openings in the form of a circle and a triangle. ISH-thinking

Perhaps the toddler might solve the problem by redefining the block as two pyramids stuck together. The block is “pyramid-ish” and might fit the triangle opening.

In our daily lives, we often try to give meaning to a diffuse situation by drafting a metaphor that is more or less “like-ish”. Mostly the metaphor does not fit exactly, at least not literally.

  • by doing that he stuck a knife in my back
  • I feel butterflies in my belly
  • at this moment she is very instable
  • their relationship is stormy

Mostly we don’t have any problem at all in using these ill-defined concepts. It helps us to articulate confusing and in particular emotional situations to “get grip on them”. Less prevalent is “ish-thinking” to describe seemingly well-defined physical objects. You will rarely hear someone who discusses a concrete thing (a bridge, a museum, a coffee shop) as ” thing-ish” like bridge-ish, museum-ish, coffee shop-ish). Yet, Starbuck is coffee shop-ish. Also, a kind of museum which would work like a modern library could be called museum-ish or library-ish: Art-works will be transported from the basement to the museum room at the request of the museum visitor, like in libraries with books.

And this is surely “bridge-ish”:


In this instance it’s about inviting people to cross a body of water in an unconventional manner… by using an inflatable bridge equipped with giant trampolines.

Is it a bridge or is it a gigantic trampoline? Or both, or more or less?

We are sure that the moment you begin to think about an ish-bike, an ish-refrigerator, sunglasses-ish or a sweater-ish for the winter, you will get rid of existing preconception on how they should look. Instead, you may  start to think about alternative forms and functions. That is because by adding the suffix “ish” to the noun, you give yourself permission to think in alternative designs. We came across a similar idea (Ïsh-thinking- ish”) in Fuzzy Concepts:

A fuzzy concept is a concept of which the boundaries of application can vary considerably according to context or conditions, instead of being fixed once and for all. This means the concept is vague in some way, lacking a fixed, precise meaning, without however being unclear or meaningless altogether. It has a definite meaning, which can become more precise only through further elaboration and specification, including a closer definition of the context in which the concept is used.”

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. fuzzy conceptTo follow our future series on Conceptual Thinking, subscribe to the blog

Thin-slicing : the power of intuition – Thinkibility Boost


Building up Intuition is “thin-slicing”

In an earlier post,  we discussed the relation between Reasoning and Intuition on the basis of Kahneman’s two interrelated thinking systems. One is fast, intuitive reactive and emotional. The other is slow, deliberate, methodical and rational. Although he acknowledges that the mind functions thanks to a delicate, intricate and sometimes difficult balance between the two systems, his book Thinking, Fast and Slow is mainly about biases of intuition. And to prevent them, we ought to be less thinking-lazy. That is to say that we must mobilize more often System 2: the laborious process of analysis. We recommended this book in our post Reasoning versus Intuition.

Basically, from childhood on a mindset is stamped in the brain “Don’t trust your Intuition”. It is a result of the scientific revolution. The result is that intuition is highly undervalued. But there are many situations where there is no room for rational thinking, yet there have to be an action, a judgement  or a decision. In such a situation the use of intuition is a last resort and we had better to be trained for it.

  • there is too little information available
  • there is too much information
  • the situation is too complex to analyse methodically
  • a quick reaction is required
  • a situation wherein someone is overwhelmed by emotions

There are also many positives of using intuition:

  • it allows for a much broader and sensitive exploration of a subject or situation
  • it can grasp soft notions about a subject or intangible aspects
  • it is very useful in situation when something cannot be caught in words
  • it draws on valuable experience
  • non-verbal clues (smell, taste, bodily signals) are mostly not available in language
  • it is less likely to get caught up in red herrings or distractions
  • there is no need  for justification (that is per definition impossible and not to trust anyway if tried)

There are not merely advantages of intuitive thinking. Sometimes it even outperforms rational systematic thinking.

In an earlier blog post Inteligent Gossip by the Watercooler we mentioned already Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, a 2005 book by Malcolm Gladwell. It is all about  mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. Although a substantial part of his book is addressing the pitfalls of intuitive thinking such as priming and stereotypes we recommend this book because it illustrates the powerful performance of what Gladwell calls “Thin-slicing“.

Thin-slicing or Rapid Cognition refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. It is the power of knowing in the first two seconds. It is a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it is reaching conclusions. Whenever we meet someone for the first time, we interview someone for a job, we react to a new idea or face with a decision quickly and under stress we use this “split second” system. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconsciousness is sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing all that is irrelevant while we zoom in on what really matters. However, it is buried somewhere in our unconscious, and we couldn’t dredge it up.

This skill is not  magically given to a couple of fortunate people. It is a skill that we can all cultivate by ourselves. Snap judgement and first impressions can be educated and controlled. It is possible to learn when to listen and when to be wary of it.

Below are some examples of Thin-slicing:

  • By a “Blink of an Eye” an art historian outperformed months of scientific analysis of a piece of art that turned out to be a forgery.
  • In an experiment with manipulated game cards sweat glands below the skin in the palms of hands of gamblers were measured.  It proved that they knew unconsciously forty cards before they were able to say that they the cards were manipulated. But moreover, they begun to behave accordingly to their unconscious stress reactions, long before they became consciously aware of what adjustments to make.
  • Marriages have a distinct pattern, a kind of DNA that surfaces in any case of meaningful interaction. After training it is possible to “read” or “decode” those patterns and predict divorce within 3 minutes, without  asking husbands and wives questions about the state of their marriage. In another experiment non-experts were given a list of emotions to look for. They predicted with better than 80 percent accuracy which marriages were going to make it.
  • It showed that in a hospital that more information did not lead to better diagnoses. Actually, the role of much in itself relevant factors was small in determining what was happening. An accurate diagnosis could be made without them. It showed also that many times doctors would do better if they knew less about their patients. The very desire for confidence by doing more tests and gathering more information from the patient was precisely what ended up undermining the accuracy of their diagnosis.
  • In an electronic war game one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five out of six amphibious ships were sent to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in the span of just one hour, resulting in the virtual death of over 20.000 US service personnel. It showed the failure of a doctrine which is called Information Dominance: databases and matrices and methodologies for systematically understanding the intentions and capabilities of the enemy. The conducting of a thoroughly rational and rigorous analysis that covered every conceivable contingency apparently destroyed the capabilities of rapid cognition.

First impressions are notorious difficult to put into words. Some people always make a note of the first word that goes through their heads. In others a visual image  imposes itself automatically. Some people  get it hot or cold. Others experience abdominal or stomach spasm.  Others experience a strong emotion or get dizzy. 

Sliced kiwi

The information is in a thin-slice

It is interesting to ponder about the consequences of living in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it. That it is much easier to listen to scientists and lawyers because they could provide pages and pages of documentation and conclusions than “reading your inner state”. 

Could we design “structures of spontaneity” where improvisation, without a script or a plot,  and reacting to the environment is less calculated and rationalized but instead promote picking up instinctively  a truth?

Could we develop intuition systematically?

Thinking and Music

How do you use your iPod music library? What sort of music do you listen to when you drive to work? Is it different from when you drive home from work? And what do you listen to while you are trying to solve a problem? By exploring our music selections, we can discover sections that under certain circumstances can help to arouse positive emotions. 

Musicians have perhaps always thought about how music affects your mood and your thinking. Lately, neuroscientists and psychologists have studied the effects of music. The search for the secret of music‘s strange powers have led to many fascinating insights. The  books Musicophiliaby Oliver Sacks and This is your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin give you insight into this intriguing area. Research suggests that you can use music to lift your moods,  to increase your memory, or to change your perception. Music influences us both in positive and negative ways. The responses to music can vary widely and the moods that people experience from the same piece of music can contradict themselves. Our responses to music can be detected in our body and certain types of music can stimulate our mind because the rhyme matches body functions. Music cause the heart beat and pulse rate to relax to the beat of the music.

Music can affect our moods and mental work by  encouraging daydreaming, sliding into old memories, exploring the past. Music can accomplish several goals at the same time and sad music can for example, encourage mental work and discharge emotions. Saarikallioand Erkkila’s study of eight adolescents from Finland.suggests that music can help us increase our understanding of emotions. A prevalent idea is that sad music may lead to a constant examination of emotional state. And this constant exploration of emotions is assumed to  lead to less clarity.

Are our responses to music acquired or are they the result of the effect of sound on our brains? Emotional impact of music is often linked to major and minor chords. Major chord sound happy and upbeat, while minor chords sounds mournful. Interestingly you can form a sad-sounding minor scale by raising the pitch of any note, while dropping the pitch gives a major chord. When we are talking a raising inflection signals questions or deference, whereas failing is used to signal dominance. This suggests that minor and major modes could be linked to basic features of how we relate to the word.

Music is tool with which we can forget all our daily problems. But music is also a tool with which we can discover things about our society and ourselves. Music ambiguity is a positive attribute – it is a virtue by offering different ways. Ambiguity means that there are different possibilities. Music may help us explore the world and welcoming ambiguity is a step towards exploring issues. Problems and issues often involve many causes and there may be many different and even contrasting and conflicting solutions.

Photo: “Speaker” by renjith krishnan