Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ready Made Thinking

Which of your most cherished opinions did you get from somebody, or somewhere, else?

Dr. Edward DeBono is famous for teaching thinking skills.

One of his best teaching aids is a program called CoRT -- [Why, with all his thinking skill, could he not master the use of UpPER- and LoWErCaSE?] -- which aims to teach a number of very useful thinking "tools" which can be applied to a very wide range of situations. Apparently, CoRT is taught in schools around the world. Oddly enough, it didn't make it to my school. (Maybe that was my problem.)

The thinking tools typically have short two or three letter names, like PMI for Plus, Minus, Interesting, or APC for Alternatives, Possibilities and Choices. They encapsulate little thinking plans that can be used in many situations. And they are disarmingly simple, but if used correctly, can help you achieve better quality of thinking.

It's rather like a master carpenter using very simple tools: hammer, screwdriver, blade, saw. The tools are simple, but there is a right way to use them, and usually a wrong way. There is also a right time to use each one, and a wrong time.

Okay, well this reminds me of a story...

When I was a teenager my older brother and I worked briefly for my uncle, who was a building contractor. My job was to nail down flooring. By the end of the first day, I could barely use my right wrist. It felt sprained. (Meanwhile, my left thumb was developing some serious paranoia problems of its own.) Needless to say, I did a great deal of whining about the wrist.

After a couple days, my big brother, who had been having some fun at my expense, must have either taken pity on me, or got tired of my whining. Or, maybe he had just been waiting till I was sore enough that I would actually listen to his advice. He walked over and explained to me how to hold a hammer. You hold the damn thing from the end of the handle and let it swing itself.


I was flabbergasted at the difference. I had been gripping it part way up the handle. After swinging it that way several hundred times, it's no wonder my wrist was feeling a little sprained. But what was really flabbergasting, was that it had never occurred to me I might need to be taught how to swing a hammer. It seemed like hammer usage would be an obvious thing.

Well, maybe it is to all of you. But it sure as heckfire hadn't been obvious to me.

Anyway, after that it got a lot easier to swing that hammer. My sprain didn't bug me so much after that. My thumb didn't get over its little scaredycat problem -- I'm afraid...I'm afraid! But I was able to get through another week or two on the job.

It was a shot to my pride, but I walked away with a new respect for tools. They may look simple, but I still need to be taught how to use them.

Okay, so that's the end of my story (great, wasn't it!). Now CoRT is back in session...

One of the CoRT tools I wanted to talk to you about is called Ready Mades. DeBono tells us about 2 types of Ready Mades: There are helpful ready mades (RM-H) and substitute ready mades (RM-S). And the rough idea behind these tools is that you try to recognize if some piece of your thinking -- for example, an opinion you may hold to -- is a ready made, or not. And, if so, is it helpful, or is it a substitute for thinking?

Now, I find this to be a really useful tool. Pity I don't use it as much as I should. In fact, I am going to make a resolution -- right here, right now -- to try to make more frequent use of this tool.

Here's what I am going to do. I am going to try reviewing a few of my opinions -- or other ideas -- to identify which are of my own origin, and which are not. And when I recognize some as not being my own, I am going to ask myself whether I brought any value of my own to the ideas. I am going to ask whether I did any of my own thinking, or whether I just took it as is, right off the shelf, without even examining it. Was I being lazy? Or, practical? And the most important thing I am going to ask is whether it is a helpful for me to keep the idea as is, or if I should be doing something more with it. Oh yeah! And, how attached am I to the idea?

These questions should help me to sort my ready mades into one of two categories: Helpful (RM-H) and Substitutes (RM-S).

Now, there is nothing wrong with using ready made ideas, any more than there is buying clothing off the shelf. But it does seem to me helpful to recognize when I am thinking for myself, and when I am really in lazy thinking mode. When I am not a serious participant in the thoughts that are holding court in my mind.

Have you ever listened to, or debated with, somebody who seemed to just be reciting opinions that he or she probably just got from somebody else?

Do you ever notice yourself doing it? You know I do.

If you have the inclination, I would like to hear some of your stories (or other thoughts) about ready mades.


Blogger Phil Plasma said...

What I have found is that if I read enough about a topic to become a borderline expert in it (read many different sources, many opposing opinions, learn the ins and outs), I can speak to someone on this topic and it is really evident that they are talking out of their ass. What they are reciting is probably the opinion of the person who wrote the news that the pretty guy on TV read to them.

Do I do this myself? I don't doubt it, but I'm not particularly aware of it. I tend to be a lot more forceful of my opinion on things once I have formed an opinion, and that is only usually after having read a lot about the topic. If someone is talking about a topic with which I am particularly unfamiliar, I am more likely to ask them questions about that topic than I am to recite a ready made idea about it.

word verification: nlghfg

7:49 AM  

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