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
In 17th and 18th centuries England, France, and Spain contested the Dutch domination of world trade and the control over the seas and trade routes. After initial English successes, the war ended in a decisive Dutch victory.
In 1667 Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter sailed up to the river Thames and attacked the British Royal navy in her home base and towed away the Royal Charles, pride and flagship of the English fleet to display it as a tourist attraction in Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands. It was one of the worst defeats in the Royal Navy’s history, comparable with that of the fall of Singapore in 1942.
Till then, both navies had tried to fight each other at the open seas. Numbers of war ships, range and caliber of the guns and coordinated maneuvering skills were key success factors. However, de Ruyter did something totally different, he sailed up to Chatham and surprised the resting British fleet there. That way he outperformed the British navy by changing the rules of the game.
This kind of thinking is the same you should apply when you want to reach dramatic cost reductions, come up with a radical new concept for an existing product or creating a breakthrough innovation. In those cases more-of-the-same thinking will not provide for a game change in the market. Patterns of standard thinking should be broken in order to get competitive advantage.
Edward de Bono, de inventor of lateral thinking, called it Sur/petition: creating value monopolies when everyone else is merely competiting.
However, it is not simple to come up with disruptive ideas. And also, to convince your board and your crew.
When the secret instructions were opened on June 7 there was a lot of protest. It was noted that most officers do did their best to find objections, but not to come up with solutions.
See also: Creative Execution: What Great Leaders Do to Unleash Bold Thinking and Innovation or watch this video 2′ 23”
How to recognize concepts?
A concept can be described as a perceived pattern or regularity in events or objects. We form groups of different events or objects into a single category on the basis of some underlying similarity. We are often not aware of what aspects or characteristcs that are underlying the categorization of events and objects into concepts. In a sense, when becoming manifested, the embodiment of an concept will become clear. Concepts or categories can be associated with a single word. The development of “single word” concepts in young children is fascinating, as Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander show in their book Surfaces and Essences.A child forms their first concepts between birth and three years of age. The construction of concepts begins before the acquisition of language. Hofstadter and Sander discusses how categories associated with a single word are constantly having their boundaries extended by analogies, the word mum is extended when the child acquires words like grandma, fairy-queen, and surrogate mother. Other single word concepts are words such as town, village, room, seat, table, store, but also more abstract words like society, liberalism, economics, law, money In addition, there are multi word concepts, like Achilles heel, that seems to indicate a whole complex of meaning that could be used to describe a situation in only two words (“A serious weakness that may lead to someone’s undoing”). Many proverbs and fables are multi word concepts, like we earlier discussed in Sayings and Proverbs as Thinking Patterns. Examples are A picture paints a thousand words or Penny wise, Pound foolish. There also much more abstract concepts and spontaneous categories, that somehow make a reference to a situation experienced before or to an analogous situation. Examples are “she hit me with her question” or “it’s no different than moving the deck chairs on the Titanic”. New categories are constructed every day to give concise meaning to situations or phenomena. Sometimes they have the form of a caricature such as uncle Dagobert stands for greed, a Kafkaeske situation for bureaucratic loopholes. As you may have noticed, in this blog we write a lot about thinking patterns. That is: patterns of concepts that are used in thinking. One of the ways to discover thinking patterns is to pay attention to the words that are used, especially if some words come back regularly. When we pay attention, it becomes possible to identify the “thinking pattern behind a policy paper”, that is, the basic concept of the policy. We mentioned earlier that language is not innocent, and that concepts function like filters of reality, at the same time they will give meaning of reality. If we are able to concisely describe the basic thinking of a policy maker, then we make it vulnerable for constructive criticism. That will be one of our next posts about concepts. To read more about Thinking Patterns in science: click here
Some time ago Robert Sheldrake suggested ten dogmas of modern science. In a TEDx presentation he argued that science, by using a rigorous method, has become a belief system that has become the default in the scientific community and this system is based on reductionism and mechanical philosophy. This idea caused an uproar in the scientific community and – ironically – also the watchers of the YouTube channel “Ideas Worth Spreading”.
As followers of Thinkibility already know, the more controversal a topic is, the more interesting. Sheldrake had apparently broken a pattern of thinking or challenged a common pattern and this was followed, as it always does, by anger and attack. Below are the ten assumptions Sheldrake suggested in his talk.
- Nature acts like a machine, relations between phenomena are mechanical
- Nature does not have consciousness
- The laws of nature do not change
- The total mass and energy is constant
- Nature does not have a purpose
- Inherited biological properties are material
- Memories are stored inside the brain
- The mind is inside the brain
- Thinking do not have physical effects
- Only mechanistic drugs work
You may or may not agree these assumptions, but that is not the point to be taken here, in our point of view. We belief that putting these assumption in a True either/or Untrue box is a premature approach. Of course, we could use these assumptions as preliminary hypotheses to work with, yet it is wise to acknowledge your assumptions and not regarding them as dogmas. Instead of that we could better, or even must, regard them as possibilities and triggers to question: “What if?”.
Also, as Kant argued, it is not sufficient that hypothesis are positive confirmed by experiments. Kant recommended that we should indicate under which conditions a hypothesis would be wrong. A hypothesis is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. Could we?
Challenging the dominant thinking patterns in science could led to a paradigm shift as Thomas Kuhn described in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to the idea of normal or generally accepted science.
Beside our considerations above, it would be an excellent exercise in Thinkibility to think up a compelling science fiction story by challenging the standard beliefs of science.
What if ?
We have written about standard patterns and possible escapes from them in the following blogposts:
In earlier posts “Contradictions and Aggression” and “Don’t Think You Can Think” part 1 and part 2 we did some thinking about contradictions, dilemma’s and paradoxes. A special case of these are double binds.
A double bind exists when
- an impossible ultimatum is put forward (either/or, however, both alternatives are unacceptable)
- two directives are in conflict (be spontaneous)
- two conflicting messages (you are absolutely fantastic, but you have to change your behavior)
- double bind questions (do you still beat your wife?)
- conflict between words and actual behavior (yes, I drink too much)
Essentially, a double bind is a form of unconscious control or exerting tacit power.
Elizabeth Davids offers four strategies to reduce feelings of confusion and being trapped in a situation where you can only lose.
- Look at the bigger picture
- Don’t introvert
- This is not my game
- Look for a third option
Actually, she mentions a fifth strategy, the reverse double bind or counter paradox, which we will explore in another blog post.
As a follow-up of an earlier post about Reversals, we present here some more examples. A Reversal reverses the usual sequence or direction of doing something. For instance: Normally a product is delivered after the customer places the order. A Reversal could be that the customer places the order after the product is delivered. What ideas may come out of this turn? Also this time, some examples we derived from This Explains Everything, a 150 of the most surprising stories and brilliant theories of the way our minds, societies and universe work.
A good and fast way to crank out some new ideas is to reverse them.
Reversals are also known as Assumptions Reversals. It is a powerful thinking strategy that could lead to some interesting ideas and new concepts because they provoke the conventional way of thinking and challenges generally accepted wisdom. Out of an excessive interest we have collected some most stunning examples.
- In many conversations it is conveniently assumed that a company, the government or another institution is one and the same actor, and it’s actions are interpreted as that from a real human who behaves rationally. That is to say, the actor examines a set of goals, evaluates them according to their utility, then picks the one that has the highest “payoff.”
A Reversal could be that behavior of organisations could be interpreted as a result of negotiating processes between parts of an organization (“Governmental Politics“) or as standardized and automatic outcomes of Organizational Procedures and/or routines.
- 8 uurs workday
- time mgt GTD
- Bruno Latour
- Normally, companies pay for advertisements directed on broad defined target groups in advance and regardless weather they are read or not.
GoogleAds has this reversed. A company pays only for an advertisement if it is actually read by a prospective client. Many new business models are based on Reversals. One such a Reversal is that the receiver of the product/service don’t pay for it, but that it is paid for by a third party.
- Many people believe that higher education of the population, science and availability of medical services are responsible for lower infant mortality and longer life.
It is not. Safe drinking water and sewage treatment plants have been instrumental in improving health.
- Expedition Robinson, Big Brother and The Mole are examples of Reversals from scripted TV-series that are scripted and casted with professional actors.
- Heliocentrism – the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the Solar System- is the Reversal of the Geocentrism -a description of the cosmos where Earth is at the orbital center of all celestial bodies.
- Before 1982, conventional thinking was that no bacterium can live in the human stomach, as the stomach produced extensive amounts of acid of a strength similar to the acid found in a car battery.
Marshall and Warren rewrote the textbooks with reference to what causes gastritis and gastric ulcers: a bacterium with affinity for acidic environments: the Helicobacter pylori. In hindsight, it is amazing that already in 1875 it is hypothesized that ulcers are caused by bacteria. The timeline of the discovery illustrates how much effort it takes to become mainstream knowledge,
- Economic policy makers commonly tend to take the nation-state as focus for interventions.
A Reversal is that cities are the primary drivers of economic development, as Jane Jacobs has put forward,
- In psychoanalysis conflicts between conscious and unconscious, or repressed, material can materialize in the form of mental or emotional disturbances, for example: neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc. Solving repressed conflicts by talking and freely associating would lead to reduced symptoms of emotional disturbance.
However, Aaron Beck reversed this approach by hypothesizing that different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking. By helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally. This Reversal initiated Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. He began helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally.
- Ha-Joon Chang suggests in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism twenty-three Reversals of theories and empirical facts that are accepted by most professionals that cloud our financial institutions like “there is no such thing as a free market”, “we do not live in a post-industrial age”, “Africa is not destined for underdevelopment”, “despite the fall of communism, we are still living in planned economies” and “More education in itself is not going to make a country richer“.
The future is often a reverse of the assumptions of the present.
In a Reversal the usual supposed cause-effect relation between objects or subjects are turned upside down. For example, it is supposed that the establishment of a permanent observation post increases the safety of recreational sailing. A Reversal could set up that the establishment of a permanent observational post rightly effective decreases the safety of sailors. The Reversal set up could lead to the idea that permanent observation gives sailors a misplaced feeling of safety, and also that observation can only timely detect sailors in difficulties, but doesn’t prevent accidents, nor solve them if happened.
- Reversals are applied to create opportunities to escape from patterns.
- Carefully designed Reversals are excellent thinking strategies in attempting alternative explanations for phenomenon in medical science, sociology and psychology.
One uncommon, unique and different arrow goes in the opposite direction of the rest of the group, symbolizing unusual nature, being a rebel or innovating with creative thinking.
As a somewhat weird hobby we collected some Reversals. Some will be known to you, some will astonish or even upset you. Many “collectors items” we gratefully derived from This Explains Everything -155 thinkers about the most elegant insights all time.
- The idea that team building can be stimulated by organizing a party with a lot of talk, fun, good food and drinks is totally wrong
Team spirit will evoke by successfully attaining goals in “weathering tests”. That teams after their trials exuberantly would party is wrongly interpreted as a condition for team spirit. Team members will become supportive only after overcoming an obstacle.
- We have a certain impression that important decisions in one’s life are taken consciously.
However, biologic research shows that important decisions are taken unconsciously, but that nevertheless our brains invent acceptable explanations regarding the token decisions (Terrence J. Sejnowski). Also, people don’t behave in a way because they are so-and-so, but make conclusions about what they are by observing their own behavior (Timothy D. Wilson). Traditionally, psychological problems come from the inner part of the clients. However, self-perception theory perspective suggests that people derive their inner feelings or abilities from their external behaviors. We don’t do who we are, but we are what we do.
- In what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “lucretan underestimation” current risk assesment methodologies are based on the worst event ever happened (the worst recession, the cruelest war, the worst unemployment rates), not on what could happen.
He argues that nature looks forward by anticipating to what perhaps would happen, by reserving extra capacity and building up strength. Redundancy is therefore not a defensive approach. See also the three earlier blog post about building robustness in systems here.
- Placebo’s – sugar pills with no effective medical working – are thought to have no influence on the body at all.
Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect. Eric J. Topol suggests to use “placebo medication” as a therapy.
- Bibb Latané and John Darley, known from their confronting studies on bystander intervention and helping behavior, refute the proverbal truth of that “two heads are better than one”.
Two people are often less effective than one single person. The merely presence of some other beings prevent a single person are often than not to take adequate action in a situation.
Another examples of the inadequacy of “More Is Better” : “More ideas are better”. Actually, many inferior ideas will not even one really innovative idea. “More hands are better”: Many organisations try to solve problems by adding more resources (time, budget, workers, overseers), while fundamental redesign of the work processes could solve the problem. Often problems are solved by reducing the people involved.”Bigger is Better” or “Economies of Scale“: Many mergers, intended to improve efficiency and to reduce running costs, actually become counter productive.
- Normally it is assumed that romantic harmony between couples is the standard with the aim of copulating is the joint reproduction of offspring.
Huge conflicts between spouses are regarded as signs of dysfunction. However, David Buss posits a radical reformulation in a theory about sexual conflict: Sexual conflict or sexual antagonism occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly over the mode and frequency of mating, potentially leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females.
- “Dirt is not dirt, but only matter in the wrong place.” is another example of an Reversal which ensures that we will continue to question conventions.
- Some models of human behavior in the social sciences and many economics models assume that people are on average rational, and can in large enough quantities be approximated to act according to their preferences.
The concept of bounded rationality by Herbert Simon reverses this assumption to account for the fact that perfectly rational decisions are often not feasible in practice because of the finite computational resources available for making them. Humans are not rational actors but satisficing: the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.
- The idea that “there is a someone in my head” or ” some part of my head is responsible for …” is debated by David Eagleman.
In “Incognito. The Secret Lives of the Brain” he suggests that the brain contains divers and overlapping ways to handle the world. There are a lot of “someones” in our head, a representative democracy that functions due to competition between the brain parts of which we are not conscious at all. As such, the brain is subject to neural conflicts.
- Throughout centuries, it has been assumed that a perceived object doesn’t change under influence of an observer.
However, quantum physics, psychology and sociology has shown that this is not true. To expand this concept it is suggested that biology is the science about behavior of biologists, physics the science about behavior of physicists. This is a Reversal of empiricism, a theory of knowledge which states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Another Reversal of empiricism is the statement that perception without a theory is not possible. Theories like ideas, hypothesis, perspectives, perceptions, assumptions, etc. do have an important and fundamental role to acquire and enhance knowledge. Any observation takes place against the background of a theory, consciously or not. So called “Evidence-based Policy” is then more it’s Reversal: “Policy based Evidence”.
- Most software applications are designed to assist us with thinking tasks.
But in reverse, in the “Computional Brain” computer models constrained by neurobiological data can help reveal how – networks of neurons subserve perception and behavior – how their physical interactions can yield global results in perception and behavior, and how their physical properties are used to code information and compute solutions.
A last Reversion, to reflect on: To get a good idea the standard approach is to search for better ideas. A reversed approach is to get rid of a bad idea. Doing so helps to suppress simple, obvious but not effective attempts whereby a better solution can arise.