Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gut Feelings: Tell Me What You REALLY Think

Every once in a while I find myself more receptive than usual to ideas that I may have rejected in the past. This may be one of those times.

A couple of years ago, cognitive psychologist and researcher Gerd Gigerenzer published a little paperback that (I'm betting) most of us missed. I would have missed it, too, had I not lived up to a promise my wife and I made to ourselves many years ago. The promise was that anytime we browsed a small, private bookstore we would not walk out without buying at least one book to support the enterprise.

At any rate, I walked out with Gut Feelings, partly because of its intriguing title, partly because of its small size (easy to take on trips), and mostly because of the blurb on the back cover: "Are logic and reasoning overrated?" But I didn't actually start reading it until I needed a book to fit into the front pocket of a binder on my most recent consulting trip - something that I might make a dent in over a long weekend around a customer visit. And I have never been more pleasantly surprised with an little known book.

Let me give you a small sample:

"The Benefits of Simplicity. In an uncertain world, simple rules of thumb can predict complex phenomena as well as or better than complex rules do."

I ask you to think about this. On the one hand, we tend to revere the mathematicians, physicists, and economists who can describe in apparently precise terms the exact quantitative relationships involved in the "complex phenomena" that we deal with increasingly in our daily lives. Yet Gigerenzer can cite multiple studies that demonstrate, for example, that simply dividing up your dollars evenly among multiple investments produces at least as good a long-term result as the most highly rated economic advisors.

Not earthshaking, you say? Maybe not. But in a blog dedicated to thinking, with a lot of space devoted to the virtues of analytical thinking, there are ideas in this book to prompt some re-thinking.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Analytical Skills? No Big Deal

We can teach this stuff. No; correction: we can help learners become aware of the analytical capability that they already have, probably already use in some realms, so that they can use those skills consciously to solve problems in other realms.

What exactly is analysis? I think it is the making of logical distinctions. Ah, and what is a logical distinction? Depends on the nature of the problem.

One kind of logical distinction is abstract, based on characteristics or qualities we attribute to something. So, for example, we think of Italy as a warm climate, Sweden as a cold climate. Warm and cold - adjectives - are words that describe qualities we attribute to things (in this case, places). So here's a simple analytical problem: Classify the following as warm or cold countries: Mexico, Canada, Norway, Ethiopia, Brazil.

How hard was that? If you can do that, you can analyze. More to come.