Published on April 28th, 2008 | by drkkr


Tools For Thinking

Human actions, attitudes, achievements and failures are all the products of our ability to think. Unfortunately the process of thinking is taken for granted by most of us, who either admire or condemn the products of thinking. A new invention or a new scientific theory is received with acclaim but very little attention is given to the organizing of the thought process that led to the invention or the discovery. Very frequently any reference to the organization of the process of thinking that went into the achievement. It is usually brushed aside with the cliché, “ He / She is a genius”. This in turn leads us to the observation of a famous scientist, which informs us that ‘genius is 99% perspiration and 1 % inspiration’. Perspiration, in the observation is a metaphor for effort but effort itself is the result of a series of thought processes. The question then arises can an individual mould the way in which a person thinks; and if this is possible, are there any tools with which a person can mould his thoughts and give direction to them. A process is a series of individual component actions or groups of actions, which lead to a final product.

Petrol is the end product of Geological and Arial surveys for oil, moving the necessary equipment for drilling to the site of the prospective oil well, making test drills and calculating the yield and assessing the quality of the crude oil, considering the effects of the find on the environment, local population and financial repercussions, solving the technical, sociological and financial problems, drilling, collecting the crude petroleum, conveying it to the refinery, refining it through the process of fractional distillation, finally collecting the various by products and the different grades of petroleum for various uses and the final assessment of whether the project is a success or not. It will be obvious that the process must necessarily use a number of sets of tools, each appropriate to the respective stages for which it is used in the process. The process used here, as an illustration may raise the doubt: “Can the process of thinking – – and creative thinking in particular – – be equated to a process mentioned above; and if so what are the tools to be used in the process of thinking. Without doubt, each process is unique and at least slightly different from the others. However, there are similarities between the organization of the process of creative thinking and organization of the physical processes of any creative activity.

Both require:

1) the collection of information – [hence the geological and Arial surveys]

2) the consideration of the advantages of the process – [hence the test drills calculation of the possible yield and assessment of the quality of the crude]

3) the consideration of the disadvantages of the process – [hence consideration of the effect on environment, local population, political repercussions etc.]

4) finding the solutions for the problems and carrying out the process to its conclusion

5) assessing the success or failure of the process – [Am I satisfied with the solution that I have created? Can I improve it? Should I have used a different solution?]

In the process described above two sets of tools are used. They are * first the mental tools such as collection of information, considering the advantages and disadvantages etc., which are used in the process of thinking behind each phase of the sinking of an oil well and * secondly, the actual tools used for: geological survey, the drilling equipment etc. The process of creative thinking has five stages, which have been identified by Edward De Bono, who calls the processes in these five stages the tools of the process of creative thinking.

Further he has associated each of the tools used in the process of thinking with a cap of a definite colour as given below:

1)Collection of information required for an action or decision –White cap

2)Consideration of the advantages -Yellow cap

3)Considering problems & disadvantages – Black cap

4)Solving problems & creative action – Green cap

5)Assessing the success or failure of the product of the process of thinking- Red cap The English phrase, ‘To put on one’s thinking cap’ means, “to take time to think things over fully” [A First English Companion by Walter D. Wright, Welwyn, England: 1962, p.139.]

Edward De Bono’s five caps may therefore be taken as areas on which we should focus in an organized manner. In other words, the focusing of our thoughts, stage by stage on:

information → benefits / advantages → disadvantages / problems → solving problems & creative action → assessment of and feelings about what has been decided / done, are the tools that we use in the process of thinking.

The technique of breaking up an action or process into its component parts mentally and focusing on each component in a person’s mind as a preliminary to creating greater efficiency or creating a new process has gone into a number of discoveries and inventions. Unfortunately, while great importance has been given to the end product, most people are not aware of the tools of thought that went into the thought process that produced it. The tools of thought are not new. They have existed for a long time. The common English proverb, “Look before you leap” can be used to illustrate this point. The four words of the proverb actually mean:

1. Collect all the available information about the place where you are going to leap [Is it sandy? Is there’re enough water to break your fall? Will you break your legs or hurt yourself? Are you standing at a great height? ] – (white cap) >

2. Consider the benefits /advantages of leaping [You can escape the dog that is chasing you. Though you are standing at a fairly great height, there is a lorry load of sand, which will break your fall. The dog may not jump.] – (yellow cap) >

3. Consider the disadvantages [The dog may also jump. You may hurt yourself if you jump. The dog will bite you if you don’t jump.] – (black cap) >

4. Try to create a solution for the problem [You may climb up a tree which is next to you or you may slither down the slope instead of jumping or you may throw a stone at the dog. You opt for climbing the tree. The dog sits at the foot of the tree barking at you and you have to wait till its owner comes and calls it away] – (green cap) >

5. After the incident, you review it. [You feel that the solution that you created was not good enough. Perhaps you should have thrown a stone at the dog.] – (red cap).

Each cap stands for a component of the entire process of thought involved in tackling the situation in which the one finds oneself. The tools of thought can be used not only for complex physical processes but even for simple ones like selecting a television channel out of the ones available on ones T. V. or deciding, whether the term, ‘idiot box’, which is some times applied to T.V. is justifiable. A corollary to organized thought is the fact that using the tools of thought before a person acts shows that the person has a methodical or scientific attitude to his work. Most scientific discoveries are the product of the use of the tools of thought. Frank B Gilbreth, was a student of F.W. Taylor a founding father of the system of: Scientific Management, who propounded the system of breaking up management activities into its 4 components namely,

1. The best method of doing work

2. Selection & training of the best worker

3. The best method of providing incentives

4. The best method of employing the worker in his

4 – B Theory [The 4 Best Methods of Taylor].

In 1885, Gilbreth applied a modified form of this theory to the work of a bricklayer [mason]. He carefully observed, counted and identified the need for each movement [white cap]. Next he worked out how the movements could be reduced [yellow cap]. He identified errors in his calculation [black cap]. Bricklayers participating in his experiment were then, asked to use the five movements prescribed by him instead of the eighteen movements that they were traditionally using. The result was that the average bricklayer was able to lay 350 bricks instead of the original 120 bricks per unit of time [green cap]. Gilbreth then reviewed his work and found out that in certain cases only two movements were necessary [red cap]. The result was that the process known as Time And Motion Study, which had not existed earlier was created and improved by Gilbreth and his wife Lillian by 1911 as a tool for management to make production more efficient.

The two points to remember are:

1) Gilbreth was not aware of De Bono but used more or less the same method of thinking as can be seen by this author’s application of the caps to his process; and

2) De Bono’s caps help us to focus on the tools of the process of thinking.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and use the five caps or the tools for thinking that they stand for irrespective of whether you are planning to make a cup of coffee or draw up a balance sheet or launch a marketing campaign. (This article of mine was published in The Hindustan Times across the country).

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One Response to Tools For Thinking

  1. suchitra says:

    Its always a pleasure reading an article written by Dr.kkr,and whats amazing is the passion with which he views everything,and writes about it.when an article has been published in the hindusthan times across the country it becomes very dificult to comment on it..nevertheless,its yet another thought provoking article,which has made me think a lot before commenting!! awesome article sir!!

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