The Copenhagen Wheel – Thinkibility Nibble

Reinventing the wheel!

A small team of students at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab has developed a novel bicycle attachment that transforms your pedal-powered bike into an electric hybrid by replacing the rear wheel with one that’s equipped with a small motor assembly.

The motor is mounted in the center of the wheel and energy is collected while you brake or descend. The collected energy can be used to give you a battery-powered boost up hills.

This wheels is not available for sale yet but it is in production and it expected to go on sale next year. The wheels will be available in both mountain bike and road bike sizes.

  • How do you feel about this new invention?
  • What does you intuition tell you?
  • Will this wheel transform cities and the way we commute?

Thin-slicing : the power of intuition – Thinkibility Boost

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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. 

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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?

Make a Quick Intuitive Decision

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Do you regret afterwards when you have made a quick decision? What influences your feelings? The number of choices? The time? Or?
Imagine that there is a cloth on the table. Under the cloth, there are 40 chocolates, arranged in rows of 8 pieces. There is a short label placed in front of each piece.

Someone holds up a stopwatch you have 10 seconds to pick three chocolates when the chocolates are uncovered.You then eat the chocolates that you have selected.

  • Do you think that there were chocolates that tasted much better than the chocolate that you chose?
  • How sure are you that you chose the best pieces?
  • Does choosing quickly lead to better/the same/ or worse choices?

Now imagine that there were only 20 chocolates under the cloth. Or 400?

Larger choices often lead to greater regret, and we use the theory that “a quick choice is a bad choice”.  The time pressure means that we get a feeling of having to rush the evaluation of the different choices.

When you are metaphorically wearing the Red Hat (see Six Thinking Hats as designed by Edward de Bono), you are asked to make a quick and fast decision. In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell argues that the quick decision – the “snap” judgment – is much maligned. We are remarkably good at making a speedy assessment and drawing conclusions based on little information.

We “know” things we do not even know that we know. We may sense or feel certain that a person is sad, even though he looks fine and he says that he is fine. Intuition is a direct perception that something is true or a fact. It is a strong judgment that we cannot explain. We do not know why or where this judgement comes from. An intuition is a perception of something that is beyond our “normal” range, yet still close enough to make us feel that something is sensible.

Intuition can be described as rapid cognitions that take advantage or the brain’s shortcuts. It can also be seen as an unconscious associative process. A  mental matching game where we perceive a situation and make a quick search among our files in the brain and then search for a fitting analogue among the stored memories. Based upon that analogue we interpret the situation. We may also use knowledge quickly to make a judgement. A fire fighter may use his knowledge about materials to make a quick decision to enter into a burning houses built of wood.
Yet the environment in which we are asked to make a quick decision influences our feelings about the decisions. Feeling rushed to make a decision is different from being rushed to make a decision. Awareness of when you need more time to make a decision, may prevent you from feeling rushed and more importantly from making a “bad decision”.

Go here to read more about making quick decisions and regretting decisions.

Photo: “Various Chocolate Pralines” by antpkr

Intuition Explains Everything!

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Important decisions such as who we should marry, whether to take a job or not, are often made based on intuition, we do not simply weigh pros and cons. Something else influences our decision.

Gerd Gigerenzersays that it is capacities that have evolved over thousands of years – our ability to trust, imitate and love. Computing the optimal solution for a problem relies on techniques where “all the factors” are known. Gigerenzer provides an alternative to the view of the mind as a cognitive optimizer, and a cognitive miser. In contrast to Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tverski who suggested that intuition fails to respect rules of logic and thus make people prone to biases and mistakes, Gigerenzer sees it as tool that has adapted through evolution.

Hunches may provide powerful insights into an issue, adding a fresh perspective or leading to new ideas and suggestions. Judges may uses hunches when they make a decision, there is wisdom in lack of knowledge, and more information may not always be better.

Yet it is vital to be aware of the limits of intuition. This is a question that Ludwig Wittengenstein used to give to is students to help them explore the limits of intuition. If you are a dressmaker or mathematicians, you may get it right. If you are neither, you might struggle to get close to the answer, and even worse, you may just like me, struggle to understand how the answer can be right!

You want to tie a string around the Earth. You stretch the string round it tightly.

Now remove the string and add 1 metre to its length.

Wrap the string round the Earth again, such that it is equidistant from the surface all the way round.

What is the height of the string above the Earth’s surface?

  • Can you slip a hair under it?
  • A credit card?
  • Could you trip over it?

Let us assume the Earth is a perfect sphere. And you find the answer here.

This example shows that intuition is not a mysterious kind of thinking. The dressmaker and the mathematician has experience of these kinds of problems and they use it solve the problem.

It is also easy to believe that certain rules lead to something predicable. And here our intuition may be wrong again. John Conway’s Game of Life is an example of  when something different may happen.. The inspiration of this blog post comes from Brian Eno’s “The Limits of Intuition”, from the book “This Explains Everything” edited by John Brockman. Warmly recommended.

You can read more about intuition and experts here and here.

Photo “Plastic Rope” by Feelart

Unlocking the Expert

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Should we strive towards becoming an expert? And should we use experts? It is often assumed that the expert has lost awareness of what he or she knows (go here to read more about this idea). You could also see it as part of the definition of an expert. According to the Dreyfus model, an expert relies on intuition and makes quick decision. In a sense, experts do not try to solve problems, instead they do what normally works. In many situations, this may be enough but there is various problems attached with an inflexible approach to decision-making.

Various approaches can be used to overcome some of the problems. An idea is to let a person who is at the proficiency level watch an expert and try to make sense of what he or she is doing. The aim is to derive rules by studying the expert. However, it is often very difficult to explain what an expert is doing. In innovation, an idea that might be tested is to pair the expert with someone who is not an expert in this field but who is familiar with the basic concepts and language that is used in that particular field.

“If one asks an expert for the rules he or she is using, one will, in effect, force the expert to regress to the level of a beginner and state the rules learned in school. Thus, instead of using rules they no longer remember, as knowledge engineers suppose, the expert is forced to remember rules they no longer use. … No amount of rules and facts can capture the knowledge an expert has when he or she has stored experience of the actual outcomes of tens of thousands of situations. “ Dreyfus & Dreyfus

This is approach of gradually learning from conscious to unconscious knowledge and skills is based upon the idea that consciousness is of an either/or character. However, an expert may successfully use various techniques and methods to overcome some of the problems. An expert may make decisions without reflecting but given time, he or she will consider alternatives. Often an expert is often used in situations when a quick decision is required and this may not be the best way of using an expert. An expert can reflect and explore her assumptions. An expert has built up on enormous amount of experience and consciously resisting the temptation to rely on intuition can enhance the performance.

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Kota Hiratsuka is a paper artist who takes into account  shadows and light.

Awareness is most likely not of an either/or character. Using a new approach to a task may help an expert to become more aware. For example, an expert nurse can write down her practical approach for caring for patients and reflect on the practice.  Expert knowledge is something that is built up through the experience of nursing and a practitioner cannot always explain why they followed a particular course of action. Reflection is used to help expert nurses to build new theories, which they should test in practice.

This is also called Reflexive Practice., first coined by Schön. Later, he introduced the concepts Reflection-in-action and Reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action can be described as the ability of a practitioner to ‘think on their feet’, otherwise known as ‘felt-knowing’. It revolves around the idea that within any given moment, when faced with a professional issue, a practitioner usually connects with their feelings, emotions, and prior experiences to attend to the situation directly. Reflection-on-action on the other hand is the idea that after the experience a practitioner analyses their reaction to the situation and explores the reasons around, and the consequences of, their actions. This is usually conducted though a documented reflection of the situation.

In the video, below we can observe several ways that an expert is working to resist reacting in the “normal way”. Shoe designer Mike Friton, works for Nike, where he uses his expert knowledge to design footwear. He has done this for 30 years and he uses several techniques to challenge his own approach and thinking.

  • Origami expert – skilled at using his fingers to fold paper
  • Uses creative thinking tools – can be observed by his choice of unusual materials
  • Examines different subjects not related to shoe design
  • Explores new techniques – taught himself  to weave
  • Visualizes and imagines designs – creates a pallet of new ideas and concepts
  • Works together with others – the Innovation Kitchen
  • Explore ideas alone by testing them – text style, paper-folding
  • Has in-depth experience and involvement – running excites him
  • Supportive environment – a well-equipped workshop
  • Curious attitude – desire to learn and innovate: “Could this design be better?” “Can I do it in another way?

The Innovator from Cineastas on Vimeo.

Photo  “Head With Key” by ddpavumba

Innovation and Intuition

A buzzword like innovation tends to lure us into false security. It is tempting to believe that innovation is simply something that you can inject into an organisation.  Today, every company says that it got innovation. The definition of the term varies from inventing a new product that has never existed to turning an overlooked commodity into a consumer snack like Craisins. Often the term is used to describe what is seen as “a very good product”.

But what is it? And what do you do? Set of rules for innovation can be contrasted with an approach that allows intuition and serendipity to play a part in the innovative process. Treating creativity either as something that simply happens or only happens in a structured way is perhaps not a fruitful approach. Each and everyone of us may have a personal preference for a certain approach, yet awareness of when to use creativity techniques and tools and when to rely on intuition is necessary.

Designing a framework for innovation where tools are used does not mean that there is no room for intuition. A mixture is good. Understanding of positive and negative aspects of different approaches helps us utilize the different approaches. Treating structure or serendipity as the enemy of creativity is not fruitful.

A framework for setting objectives and managing expectations is a necessary step in an innovation. Yet an idea may suddenly hit us that are not the fruit of a conscious use of a creative session. We may “feel” that this is right. An intuition is a perception of something that is beyond our “normal” range, yet still close enough to make us feel that something is sensible. It can be something that we usually take for granted without considering what we mean when we are referring to it – lacks a clear definition.

Intuition is often regarded as being independent of any reasoning process. Previously the term was often linked to the word irrational. Today, this narrow view has changed and intuition can refer to the skill that people use to making fast decisions. We can use intuition to know which solution we are going to use to make decisions.

Intuitively we may know that there is a connection between innovation and intuition. The creativity stimulus theory of Roger von Oech suggests that would-be innovators regard problems and opportunities from four distinct, apparently inconsistent perspectives. Roger von Oech suggests that the creative process consists of our adopting  roles, each of which embodies a different type of thinking.

  • Explorer –  a  thinker needs the raw materials from which new ideas are made: facts, experiences, knowledge, concepts, feelings and whatever else he or she can find.
  • Artist –  experiment with a variety of approaches,  follow intuition, rearrange, ask what-if questions and look for hidden analogies.
  • Judge –  evaluate and critically weigh the evidence, look for drawbacks in the idea
  • Warrior –  take the idea into battle to make sure that it succeeds –  may have to overcome excuses, idea killers, and other obstacles.

Regardless of the perspective, intuitive judgement may be needed to separate the good from the bad. A systematic approach may sometimes fail to illuminate the way to sound decisions. But it is crucial to be awareness of when different approaches to innovation are being used.  A premature judgement is the enemy to the creative process. In a similar way as a too rigid reliance on using tools can result in rigid decisions.

According to Hogarth intuition relies on

  • The capacity for visualization
  • The skill to acknowledge feeling and learn from them
  • The willingness to speculate and consider alternatives
  • The habit of testing perceptions, emotions, and speculations

And so does innovation.

Photo: “Hand Touching Ideas Button” by Stuart Miles