Friday, 24 February 2012

Whaddya Think ?

A recent blog post by Alan Page about Learning is Dead has been gnawing away at me the last few days.
Especially the phrase:

"I wonder if anyone knows how to think anymore. Knowledge is much more than learning or regurgitating facts"

Sure, I have a big stack of books I'm working my way through, everything from how the designers at IDEO work to a biography of Captain Cook. So I could tell you all about Cook's upbringing in Whitby or how IDEO won a soapbox derby but what have I really learned from these books ? Was I just taking in information and facts and amusing anecdotes rather than learning ?
( Disclaimer: books can just be read for pleasure and you don't have to be learning 24x7 )

I also read a lot of blogs. I often leave comments - I like to let the authors know that their work is being read and appreciated. Being a good member of the community.
But leaving an "Interesting post" message is now giving me that same gnawing feeling. It's not enough, I'd like to be providing better feedback on the post, what did I think was wrong with it, why did I think it was interesting ?

I can't let Alan's post take all the credit though.
Just before Christmas I got Daniel Kahnemans 'Thinking Fast and Slow' and I'm slowly making my way through it and it's really making me aware of how I think, biases that creep in and how even my mood on the day or what facial expression I have can affect my thinking.

I'd also read a few threads asking about learning Systems Thinking so I'd followed some of the suggestions posted in reply and ordered a few books. And there I am in that thread happily recommending books and links as I know the facts, I know the books that other people recommend, I have those books myself - but do I really understand them ?

One arrived this week, a Critical Thinking For Dummies book ( OK, it was really for College ) so this went to the top of the book pile as I figured I should learn how to think before reading any more of my book pile.

The book gets off to a good start by showing what a critical thinker does

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, and can effectively interpret it
  • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  • thinks opemindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing as need be, their assumptions, implications and practical consequences
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems

Hmmmm, pretty much covers what a good tester should be thinking like.

Next step in the book is the stages of development as thinkers
The Unreflective Thinker
The Challenged Thinker
The Beginning Thinker
The Practising Thinker
The Advanced Thinker
The Master Thinker

I'd put myself at Stage2/3 - I'm starting to become more aware of my thinking and am starting to take up the challenge of learning to grow and develop my thinking.
The rest of the book should take me through the stages so time for some serious reading.

As I was writing this blog, I read an article linked from Hacker News about leadership

This had a section on thinking:
Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube

Jeesh, has he been spying on me ?
Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

He has !!

So time to find myself some quiet for my reading

and then those of you with blogs, be prepared for some insightful comments :)

( picture at the top of the page ? Alien Brain Hemorrhage Cocktail )


Unknown said...

I'm tempted to say "Interesting Post". :-)

I think a lot of us are still puzzling through this. We are united around "Death to the Test Zombies", but deep thinking hasn't yet converged around a solution here... Yet...

But I view this as good. We are thinking about it. Just don't have a conclusion yet...

So consider this an empathic comment and an expression of hope that we can find the silver bullet.

Phil said...

Comment sent from Geir Gulbrandsen - reCaptch was not letting his comment through

Great post Phil, it reminds me of one of the many things I have a very early mental draft for writing myself :-)

Over the last couple of years I have read so many recommendations for books on everything from the Art of Describing, Lateral Thinking, how to Feel the Fear... and do it anyway, to the more hands on subjects like Everyday Scripting with Ruby and some guys Checklist Manifesto. My shelves are filling up and I really want to get through more books on a regular basis. But just as you mention, I want to learn from them as well, not just pick up the occasional buzzword and cool idea that I cant really back up with understanding.

The commenting on blogs is also so familiar, and the number of times I have stopped myself from adding a "Great post, dude!" and nothing else is way higher than I care to remember.

Is that book you write about actually called Critical Thinking for Dummies, or is it something else? I can't seem to find a book with that exact title, and I would be interested in adding it to my Library of Undiscovered Wisdom.

As a step towards improving my reading an thinking I started reading How to Read a Book last year (well, actually I read Pragmatic Thinking and Learning before that. Great book). For some reason I only read the first part, and I am now thinking of picking it up again.

I don't know your reading proficiency, or if you already know this book, but it sounds like it is somewhat similar to that book on critical thinking you talk about.
Discussing the four levels of reading; Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical and Syntopical, it suggests methods for increasing reading speed, how to take proper notes, how to question what the author really wants to tell you, and so on. The book also discuss different ways of reading depending on what type of material it is (practical books, imaginative literature, stories, plays, poems, or history).

A funny thing is that for a book that intends to teach you how to read it is a fairly large tome of 346 pages plus appendices (and no big bright pictures). Some might find it a bit disheartening, but I guess one can work through it one level at the time

Phil said...

Thanks Geir

The book is Critical Thinking Skills for College Life: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life - Richard Paul and Linda Elder. Cant rememember who recommended it, it doesn't get good reviews on Amazon uk

Thanks for the book about reading recommendation, sounds like another addition to my collection :)