Practise Thinking

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 In our recent post  A Thinkibility Home Trainer we said that we found a home trainer for thinking. A site that strives towards: 

  • Thinkers arrange facts and experience to see more clearly. 

  • Thinkers surprise themselves with new insights. 

  • Thinkers like discipline and focus rather than drift. 

  • Thinkers like to change their minds. 

  • Thinkers can be of any age. 

  • Thinkers never think their thinking is good enough. 

 

The site is called Practise Thinking and is designed by Phil Bachmann.  

The site enables you to ask the crowd to perform some thinking for you, or to practice and show off your own thinking.  

 

Among the subjects are thinking tasks that doesn’t have any purpose other than for fun or training. Topics and problems such as: 

  • What is important when a kid is making a cake? 

  • What is important for building a rocket ship? 

  • How many uses can you think of for a cup?  

  • Ways to calculate 100-40+58?  

  • What if you could only talk for one hour per day? 

  • How to prevent shark attacks? 

 

Other thinking tasks are more serious and future oriented – what are the consequences of a downgrade of U.S. Credit Rating or a massive introduction of 3D-printers? 

 There also subjects for creative evaluation, f.i. raising salaries for teachers by three, a list of the least popular songs of the month, or fixed prices in supermarkets are replaced by “make me an offer”? 

 Some thinking tasks ask for thinking about more abstract things, like concepts, function, purpose or  dominant ideas. What is the concept of a stoplight for a museum? What could be the purposes of public transport or books written for toddlers? What is the dominant idea of taking medicines or a philharmonic orchestra ? 

 Sometimes participants bring in personal problems such as my partner and I are planning our wedding and…, or a friend has been sharing a house with me for a year. He has now used up his last month’s rent that I have paid for him.  

 

Using a structured thinking technique, or function – a specific task with a precisely defined input and output- , is mandatory. There are now at least 23 functions, and descriptions and examples are provided. Applying the functions stimulates to come up new lines of thoughts and enhance the breadth and depth of the thinking. 

 

The design is of utmost simplicity but sophisticated. 

 It is not possible to look for contributions of other thinkers before you have given your own input. This prevents laziness, as thinking laziness is the worst kind of laziness.  

There is also no opportunity to react or discuss contributions. As such this site is the first that implement in its software the concept of parallel thinking. As Wikipedia explains: 

 “Parallel thinking is defined as a thinking process where focus is split in specific directions. When done in a group it effectively avoids the consequences of the adversarial approach (as used in courts). In adversarial debate, the objective is to prove or disprove statements put forward by the parties (normally two). This is also known as the dialectic approach. In Parallel Thinking, practitioners put forward as many statements as possible in several (preferably more than two) parallel tracks. This leads to exploration of a subject where all participants can contribute, in parallel, with knowledge, facts, feelings, etc. Crucial to the method is that the process is done in a disciplined manner, and that all participants play along and contribute in parallel. Thus each participant must stick to the specific track.” 

 

The site can be used as a home trainer to maintain your thinking skills or for leisure time when others prefer to do word puzzles or sudoko’s. Sometimes it is hard work but also fun!  

If you have a problem or just a subject you want to think about, you could ask people to join and to spur the thinking. Again and again I have been surprised – or a little disappointed in myself – by the thinking of other contributors.  

 Personally I use it as a Thinking Agenda, a list with topics not to forget to think about.  It compels myself to a structured and systematic approach and by publishing the question I can’t disappoint other contributors by coming up with sloppy thinking or nothing at all. 

Many times I have experienced that merely publishing  a question on the site makes me receptive for newspapers items or articles on the Internet about the topic. 

Often I did some additional study about the published question.  

 Putting thinking tasks on this site seems to have prepared my mind to notice things I was not prepared to notice before.

The creator of the site:

WIMBLEDON

“Perhaps what pleases me most about the site is that it allows truly excellent thinkers to lead and shine.  I      hope to be one day regarded as the thinker’s equivalent of whoever created Wimbledon: Just as we need a world-class tennis tournament to allow the skills of a champion to be properly demonstrated, we need a place where good thinking is acknowledged and applauded.” – Phil Bachmann 

Skills need maintenance, try Practise Thinking. At the moment there is no fee involved in using this site.  

A Thinkibilty Home Trainer?

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The idea with using a home trainer is to improve your physical fitness. Physical fitness affects the body’s physiological functioning, overall health, and motor skill related to aspects such as agility, balance, and speed. A home-trainer is at hand; to help with exercises and there is no need to go to a fitness centre or gym.

Any home trainers for your thinking fitness?

There are some training program for brain fitness, like the ones from PositHealth, BrainTrain or Lumosity.

However, there are some doubts about the claims these programs have on improving cognitive functioning. In an article by Steven Novella in Science Based Medicine, the bottom-line recommendations were:

  • Engaging in various types of cognitively demanding tasks is probably a good thing.
  • Try to engage in novel and various different types of tasks. These do not have to be computer-based.
  • Find games that you genuinely find fun – don’t make it a chore, and don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t spend lots of money on fancy brain-training programs with dramatic claims.
  • Don’t believe the hype.

In addition, to us it seems that existing brain fitness exercises are derived from cognitive tests. Therefore, it is not surprising that cognitive skills, as defined by the tests, improves.

In our opinion, cognitive tests do not reflect thinking as referring to the ideas or arrangements of ideas that result from thinking, the act of producing thoughts, or the process of producing thoughts.

In Thinkibility Ultimately Explained we suggested that Thinkibility is a bit football-ity, similar to something shown by great football stars. It is not just agility and ball control. Nor velocity, or technical skills. It is more, much more. It has something to do with thinking movements, the ability to manipulate your thoughts or virtuosity in it.

Are there any Thinkibility home trainers?

We found one site that we regularly use for Thinking skills. But we will save that for another post. In the meantime, try out some of the mentioned brain trainers. Be aware that in summer holidays your Intelligent Quotient can decrease with several points. It seems that what is true for muscle fitness also applied for the brain: Use it or lose it. But it is vital to reload the batteries. So enjoy the summer heat!

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Blocking the Left Brain Functions

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One of the most fascinating books I ever read was written by  Paul Watzlawick, a family therapist, psychologist, communications theorist, and philosopher.

In his book The Language of Change he explores the idea that sometimes a completely nonsensical interaction may lead to a very concrete result. He suggests that using language patterns from the left brain half ( explication, explanation, argumentation, analysis, confrontation, interpretation) is an attempt to translate the right brain thinking in images and holistic world views of the patients. As such therapists  repeats and reinforces the symptoms the patient urged to seek help from a therapist.

He proposes three strategies to change the right brain thinking of the patient by

  • using language patterns of the right brain half
  • blocking of the left brain side
  • targeted behavioral rules

This book was a breakthrough in psycho-therapy when it was first published in 1977 .

However, this post is not about therapy. But it could be interesting to transfer his findings  to other domains. What is interesting about the idea? What can we learn from it?

Many people, particularly people in the Western World,  believe that economic growth will increase as more people are educated in mathematics, which is often described as left brain thinking skills.

Other people, like the Chinese, believe that  economic growth will come from innovative thinking involving the  right brain side thinking.  An holistic and analogue approach to problems and design.

It may be that Watzlawick’s book 35 years after it was published becomes relevant for stimulating right brain thinking in ordinary, healthy people.

Using language patterns of the right brain half

  • Compressed text and Contamination: syfilisation (civilization), freudful mistakes (Freudian mistakes), popollution (population)
  • Use of images: pictures, cartoons, painting, story telling, dreaming, dramatic expression, visualization, poems,
  •  Humor: “Soldier Katz”, asked a sergeant of the Prussian Army, “why should a soldier give his life cheerfully for the Emperor? “. “Indeed, why would he?” answered Katz
  • Pars Pro Toto: a complex whole of related things are displayed in a very detailed description of a tiny part of it. “Suddenly a straw drilled like a nail in the door” reflect better the idea of a heavy storm than an extensive description about air going busses, trees and cars. A Pars Pro Toto is a part (taken) for the whole
  • Aforism:  a statement that is really quotable, it makes a profound point in a simple, easily remembered way, by using ambiguities, puns, allusions and the like. No better life than a good life. Retired government servant offers himself for work. Brains as well as new. Never used.

Blocking the language patterns of the left brain hemisphere

We saw already in one of our earlier blog posts that drawing skills can be improved when we close our right eye, and put the object of the drawing upside down. It is a way to block the right brain thinking functions.

When blocking the functions of the left brain it is supposed that the right brain take over its functions.

  • Confusion. Provoking confusion as opposed to intellectualizing or talking things to broke. Deliberate creating confusion make it impossible to make logical sense of what is said. The left brain gets overloaded. Someone do present a overly complex plan and someone will ask: when do we have lunch?” Many Zen koans have this function to disrupt ineffective thinking.
  • The Contra Paradox. Many people get caught in a paradox. Posing a contra paradox could help escape them from  vicious logical circularity. Consultant: ” Every time I give you advice, you give me four reasons why it cannot work. But I tell you, now I have the ultimate solution, but I won’t tell you”. Patient: “I can’t sleep”. Therapist: “It is very important that you try for the next week not to sleep”.

Of course, these are all techniques from psychotherapy, regarding the kind of effective communication to a patient who wants to change. And they are not easy to explain, nor to apply.

It is yet unclear how we can use those strategies by ourselves to stimulate right brain thinking. Perhaps we should explore how we communicate with ourselves, with our brains, like a psycho therapist does with his client.

See also our blog post about Left and Right Brain Thinking. We will explore this subject more in our forthcoming book Thinkibility – Thinking about Thinking, Creativity, Innovation and Design.

Thinking Inside the Box

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Thinking inside a box is not easy.  We may get inspiration and improve our thinking if we are sitting or walking outside a box  (go here to read a blog post). But is that true? Are there boxes that may help us to exercise our creative muscles? Look at the pictures and imagine that you are sitting inside these structures. Do you get inspired? Why? Why not?

The Danish architects Kristoffer Tejlgaard and Benny Jepsen wanted to create a”‘people’s meeting dome”. A deconstructed geodesic dome, a mathematically resolved and structurally efficient shape with a geometric wooden frame composed of triangles.  I imagine this dome as being  equivalent to being outside a box, that is , I would get more inspiration and my creative problem solving skills would improve.

  • The lights dances and is reflected in this dome.
  • Calming geometric design that still is intriguing and inspiring.
  • There are triangles and everywhere and it is interesting to search for them.

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The Free Spirit Spheres also captures my interest.  But despite its fascinating shape, it may be  too small and dark.

The UFO Tree House, well the name itself convinces me that this a great place for some serious thinking.

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Piet Blom’s unique cubes within the city centre of Rotterdam is intriguing. He tilted a traditional, cube-shaped house 45 degrees and lifted it on a hexagon-shaped pylon. Each of the houses represent a tree and all together they represent a forest. The cubes do not have any straight walls inside, so you have to be a genius in home decoration. I am convinced  that thinking improves inside these cubes.

  • Angles and lack of straight corners.
  • Light is penetrating in different ways.
  • Can imagine that I am in a forest filled with trees and blue sky.

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But what happens if we spend five days a week in these boxes or live in them? When we get used to things, we often stop noticing their beauty. We forget to look and with time the positive effects of these structures could diminish.

Elkonon Goldberg suggests that the underlying principles that lies behind left and right hemispheres of the brain is that we have to ask ourselves whether we have confronted a challenge before. The right hemisphere is organised principally to deal with novel challenges, while the left hemisphere is concerned with familiar routines (in most humans). If we are a trained artist, we process art principally in the left hemisphere, and if we are not a trained artist, we rely on the right hemisphere. There is a shift from the right to the left with competence. And maybe that is influencing our thinking inside boxes. After a while, we get used to the box and less inspired. We need to constantly challenge ourselves and look at things to be inspired. Maybe we also need to change boxes or simply step outside the box. Creative thinking takes place in an environment and awareness of how this influences our thinking is a step towards the constant search for suitable Thinkibility boxes.

Photos from a book by Taschen, Tree Houses. Fairy Tale Castles in the Air.

Think Visually or Vanish

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Children tend to think visually until they learn to read and write. Then sadly, many never use that tremendous mind capacity again for the rest of their lives. Many adult are not able to visualize things, like a traffic accident or carnival procession. Let alone higher level concepts as social welfare, health service, innovative business models, new products, etc.

That is not very surprising, given the fact that until recently it was not technically possible or too costly to use images, sketches, schemes, block diagrams, colours, music, photos, and films in written material. The context was defined by the possibilities of the printed book as invented by Gutenberg  in 1436, and as adults we become more and more accustomed to think in words only.

However, there is no reason anymore for thinking and communicating exclusively in words. The technology is there, but it is disappointing that we seldom use it.

  • A computer is not as standard provided with a device to sketch – a device that can be seamless used with a word-processor;
  • It is still rather complicated to insert films and pictures in blogs;
  • Even for making scripts for movies, an eminent visual medium, writing software is not yet equipped with the possibility to insert illustrations like mood boards, films, audio fragments or images;
  • In Word it is complicated to get neat cause-effect schemes;
  • Although there are spectacular mind map software programs, there is no possibility to have text and mind map integrated in one document;
  • There are no software programs available anymore that have the possibility to draw geographic maps, to help thinking about complex cooperation processes or information flows, and prevent intellectualizing, jargon and woolly language or even thinking;
  • In official documents and papers, images, colour, and typography is still seldom used.
  • E-books are poor electronic clones of paper books. The standard e-book formats do not allow the full making use of the possibilities of the digital era. This is an example of designing something new, but the design is subdued by thinking in standard logic bubbles (that is the printed word is more important).

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Thinking visually is not to be confused with visualizing. Visual thinking  is non-verbal thought – thinking in pictures. Creative visualization, also called sport visualization, is the basic technique to attain goals by imaging that it already happened. Visual thinking is also different from information visualization: the (interactive) visual representation of data. But all have in common the involvement of the right brain hemisphere, what is thought to be specialized in non-sequential, simultaneously thinking and synthesizing the bigger picture. See also our blog about right and left side thinking. However, the left hemisphere is also most likely involved.

Although the development of  tools for visualization is very slowly, there are some hopeful trends.

  • Nowadays mind map software is available (see overview) as software for outlining  thinking as in Rationale or Inspiration ;
  • The book “ A Whole New Mind – Why right-Brainers will rule the future” by Daniel Pink illustrates a general movement in management literature to increasingly accept creativity and innovation as a source of business value;
  • In the near future, many websites will  be converted to make a more efficient use of photos and illustrations, and even videos;
  • Nowadays many schoolbooks are colourful and attractive illustrated ;
  • Just a year ago, Pinterest was launched, a content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pin-board. We made the subject of our Thinkibility books available here, only using pictures.
  • The increasing use of “infographics”;
  • The emergence of system thinking, even on high schools now. System thinking is not possible without making a visual representation of relations between the parts of the system;
  • New business models are hardly understandable, unless it is explained visually. For examples, see here.

As the inter-dependencies at any system level only increases and available information rise exponentially, we will desperately need different tools to support us in our daily practice. In spite of all computer technology, we can benefit from learning to express ourselves visually.

Is it necessary or even possible to block out the left hemisphere? Well, take a picture, turn it upside down, close your right eye (if you are right-handed), observe, and draw. Or take a 2 hours class from Betty Edwards: “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”.

Photo: “Alphabet Drawing Business Plan Concept Ideas” by KROMKRATHOG

World Thinkers’ Ideas – Push the Limits

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Your ears… makes you hear. Or Don’t they?

Can we learn to extract sensory information from unusual sensory channels? Sensory substitution is a way to work around the loss of one sense by sending information though another channel. Pushing the limits to reach new insights may require new technology. A successful project also requires a vision and purpose.

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action. He is best known for his work on time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw. David has created a vibratory vest to allow deaf or people with severe hearing impairment to perceive auditory information through small vibrations on their torso.

We only see part of the what is going on.  Let me rephrase that – we only see of tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. Piranha and goldfish can see in infrared light, which is useful to help them in murky waters. Some animals, such as birds, bees, and certain fish, perceive ultraviolet (beyond violet). Reindeer rely on ultraviolet light to spot lichens that they eat.

The receptive field is the part of the world to which our receptor organ and receptor cells respond. For example, we not have not developed biological receptors to see, for example, in the infrared of ultraviolet spectrum.  Our  visual system, auditory system and somatosensory system are receptive fields that have been identified.

David Eagleman’s  research highlights the plasticity of our brains. We can even use sensory information from unusual sensory channels. We are good at extracting information. We can create conditions for the brain to become plastic and create new neural connections, patterns, and pathways.  Our brains are plastic and can change to adapt to circumstances.

Go here to read more about brain plasticity.

Photo:  “Hear No Evil” by sippakorn