Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

Turn The Problem Over

May 13, 2021

You are looking at the wrong side. Just turn it over, that is all you ever have to do, just turn it over.

Nero Wolfe’s personal chef Fritz Brenner to detective right hand man Archie Goodwin in Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe character was the exact opposite of his contemporary Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Overweight, New York City, pompous and arrogant versus handsome, urbane, action-prone. I’ve read the entire series of each several times.

Here, the words of genius come not from the “genius” himself (Wolfe), but from the Swiss chef that clues Archie in on where to look to solve the murder mystery.

I was reading the same week Effortless by Greg McKeown. He quotes German mathematician Carl Jacobi, “One must always invert. Turn the problem around to the other side. Assume the opposite–then what?”

Do you have a personal problem you are trying to solve? Perhaps looking at it from another point of view. Perhaps take the other person’s point of view and study they problem if it’s a relationship thing.

You are studying some spiritual writing–perhaps John or Luke or Paul or some quote of Jesus in the Christian Bible. Or perhaps an ancient or modern writer like Augustine or Max Lucado. You are stuck. “What did they mean?” you wonder.

Perhaps just pause and then change your point of view. Assume they meant the opposite of what you were thinking. Then consider it.

Sometimes I wonder if understanding Jesus and his interpreters you need to be less read in theology and more read in studies of the world–psychology, farming, geography, history.

Just change your thinking. Reading widely in a number of genres helps. That, by the way, is the path to creativity.

Note: I also like the Robert Van Gulik series of 7th Century China, the Judge Dee mysteries. He was the Dutch ambassador to China before World War II and a China scholar. More contemporary, I enjoyed the “alphabet” series about Kinsey Milhone by Sue Grafton.

You Are To Blame

November 11, 2020

Andy Stanley likes to bring up this thought nugget, “Do you know who was present at every bad decision you ever made? You. You were present at every one.”

We learned something from Jeremiah yesterday that our heart is deceitful above all things.

Advertisers and marketers are geniuses at using this knowledge. They know how easy it is to present something in such a way that we believe it. And then we act.

And then later we wonder why.

Why did we buy that? Why did we call her back? Why did we go there? Why did we get suckered into believing her or him?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a pause button? Before we decide to trust her; before we decide to go there; before we decide to send that note on social media that will make us look like a fool; before we buy that–we pause, breathe deeply, tell our deceitful heart to back off.

We are also present at our good decisions.

Andy never says that. But it’s true.

Wisdom comes from gradually recognizing situations and hitting the pause button and then making the good decision.

Lazy Thinking

July 23, 2019

Humans hate to think. It is work.

Did you ever wonder why someone (always someone else, not us) makes such horrible economic decisions? Or, how someone can believe something even after you show them with their own scriptures how they have pulled that something out of context and the writer never meant what this person now believes?

I live in a county that is overwhelmingly Trump country. A local farmer with previously impeccable Republican credentials has been attacking Trump’s policies that hurt the pocketbooks of farmers. The other farmers? They attack the person pointing out the emperor wears no clothes. We don’t vote economics. We don’t vote rationally. We vote emotionally. Well, most of us.

I wonder about such things, of course.

So I study. Today’s lesson comes from Nobel Prize winner for economics, the psychologist and researcher Daniel Kahneman. His book making the ideas understandable, Thinking Fast and Slow.

We humans have what researchers called two “systems.” System 1 makes impulse decisions based on previous experiences or perceptions. It thinks fast.

System 2 is our rational thought. This is the slow part. But…rational thought means work. System 2 is lazy. It doesn’t like to work. It will only work when forced to.

The author Rex Stout invented a detective called Nero Wolf. Wolf had an assistant called Archie Goodwin. They would take on a case to solve a murder mystery for a client. Things would get bad. They had too many suspects, not enough evidence. Goodwin would yell at the boss, “C’mon genius. You’re going to have to think. It’s time to go to work. I know you hate to work, but now we really need it.”

Stout obviously knew the good and bad of System 2.

Sometimes the impulse decision part of us works in our best interest. Sometimes it would be better for us to go to work and actually think.

What do you need to think about today? Better grab a cup of coffee and sit down with a pen and paper and go to work.

Teaching

January 30, 2019

When I teach someone about solving a problem on their computer, I put their hands on the mouse and keyboard. “Try clicking on this,” I’ll suggest. Or show a hidden menu.

I figure that a combination of muscle memory and thinking it through will help them remember. And figure out how to solve their next problem on their own.

Someone asked me once (or probably many times), “Why didn’t Jesus just make things simple and tell us flat out what he meant?”

Let me answer this way.

A scholar tested Jesus. “What is the greatest commandment?”

Jesus gave him the stock answer of a student, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind.” Then he added, “And the second is just as important–you shall love your neighbor.”

The scholar not willing to let this lie, pursued, “Who is my neighbor?”

<pause>

Now Jesus could have given a list of types of people who would be a neighbor. That would have been like a rule or law.

People respond to laws in one of three ways: they forget them because there are so many; they ignore or flaunt rebellion to them; or, they become “rule followers” with little imagination or heart.

Jesus was in a battle with the “rule followers (Pharisees)” of his day.

<end pause>

Rather than speaking plainly, he answered with a story.

What do you remember? A list? Or, the story of the Good Samaritan?

2,000 years later, even people who are not Christian know the story of the Good Samaritan. Whether we follow it or not, that’s our problem. But we know exactly how we should act if our heart is in the right place with God.

Ancient people knew that if you teach by story or by questioning (the Socratic Method, it’s called) then people will understand because they’ve thought it out for themselves.

Thinking Clearly

November 21, 2018

I saw a translator’s note in the writings of Epictetus the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher.

He said Epictetus was a joy to translate because he used short sentences. The sentences were clearly thought out.

Try reading philosophers and scholars of the last 50 years or more. They use many phrases and dependent clauses. They pile thought on top of thought. Until you discover you are spending more time deciphering their idea than the value of the thought.

A writer once said, I don’t have time to write a short piece.

Physicists Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman both said if you cannot write the idea out simply, then you don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

Teachers, please use whatever class you lead to provoke your students to think clearly and express themselves as simply as possible.

Demand the same from employees.

Don’t be like the majority of business books written over the last 20 years. When you have made your point–stop.

Sometimes I Just Have To Wonder About Things

June 26, 2018

Do you ever just wonder what would have happened if…?

I do. As the old advertising slogan said, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

The Apostle Paul’s writings can be divided into two themes. There was the theology arguing Jesus as Messiah, the resurrection, and presenting spiritual development.

Then there are the instructions (usually prefaced by “I say this”) for the organization of the first century church. This, of course, after the early writing (say, 1 Thessalonians) where he expected Jesus’s return to be any day now.

For centuries we have had men (not women typically) pulling sentences out of these later instructions and built religious movements upon them. Look at the variety of Protestant denominations continually splintering off the mother church because of one sentence or another.

Someone asked me recently about the part of Romans 13 where Paul discusses the role of government. Supposedly someone quoted this passage in support of the current US administration. I didn’t hear these same people quoting Romans 13 under the Obama administration. Just saying…

The thesis (I owe my original thinking to the theologian Elton Trueblood and then studies beyond that) of the passage basically is that government is part of the order of things for the stability of civil society. If you are living a just and true life, Paul says, then you should have nothing to worry about from government.

We know with just a cursory read of the last 2,000 years of Western history–or even the last 10 years–that Paul had it wrong. The atrocities visited upon the people by their governments have been manifold.

Paul wrote during the few years of relative calm in the Roman Empire. Later, after Paul appealed his hearing to the Emperor as the right of a Roman citizen and was shipped to Rome as a prisoner, a new emperor came to power. He was so bad that eventually there was an uprising and a civil war. Nero burned down Rome and blamed the Christians. Thousands were killed. Perhaps Paul was one of them.

The Christian church went underground for the most part until Constantine.

What if Paul had written Romans under Nero? We greatly underestimate the power of the idea of the Pax Romana today.

Creativity and Curiosity

April 13, 2018

Just give them a pencil and paper and let them write whatever comes to mind with no thought of spelling, grammar, or coherence. We don’t want to squelch a child’s creativity.

I’ve heard this “advice” until I am sick.

Study any artist. Especially the great (and creative) ones. They all learned, usually through a teacher and mentor, the basics of color, proportion, composition, and anatomy. The creativity came with using the basics in new ways–seeing things others had not. Picasso was great as a “realistic” painter, but then he decided to try to find the essence of the object or person he was painting. He pushed the boundaries with cubism.

You could pick up a guitar and start strumming and picking. Or–you could learn sounds and notes. Tune the guitar. Learn some basic chords. You only need to learn D-C-G and you can play hundreds of rock and folk songs. Just experiment different rhythms within the pattern. Maybe try an added note–go ahead, throw in a C-9 to the progression. If you only learned C-A minor-F-G, you could play around with the progression and play another hundred early rock songs. You’re only truly creative when you can build on the foundation of what works.

Writing is communication. Humans have known just about since the dawn of communication about logic. When you are expressing something, it must proceed logically. Spelling helps us convey the correct word (and it helps if you turn off autocorrect on your iPad, for example). Grammar helps us express a clear idea. Try the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or is it “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”.* Do you get the different meanings? Logic helps us lead our reader to understanding.

No, it’s not “creativity” that we need to worry about in that way.

The real crime is when we kill a child’s (or an adult’s) curiosity.

I love this little poem from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. There names are What, and Where and When; and Why and How and Who.

*There is a story about a Panda who walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. He then pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. He left. Lying on the bar was a field guide to Pandas where an editor had inserted a fatal comma.

Time To Devote Deep Thinking To Our Moral Decisions

January 26, 2018

I sat at the computer to think and then to write. Notifications flashed across the screen. “Your Photoshop has been updated.” God bless Adobe. I really needed to know that.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, thinking.

We do so little of that, don’t we? It’s easier to copy someone else’s opinion and repeat. Even Christians find themselves spouting half-truths or opinions from someone else and passing it off as theology.

We must step back from our narrow views and consider. Society globally and the individuals in it especially must consider how (or if) we make moral decisions.

I saw this in a blog called Big Think. It’s a good starting place for thinking. I copied most of it. Go to the source for more.

It is from Dr. Fred Guy, Director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and associate professor at the University of Baltimore.

Adults tend to become lazy with their thinking, backing into moral and ethical wrongdoing without noticing fully what they’re doing. As he says:

“Adults are so busy and focused on so much other than ethical issues that we don’t often stop to think coherently about what our moral principles really are.  Or what we think of our own moral character. We just assume we’re good people and let it go at that.”

Guy urges us to revisit and refine our moral code with the help of some good philosophical thinking.

He offers a series of questions that we can use to examine the case we are faced with. He calls it the ABCD Guide to Ethical Decision-Making and it goes like this:

 A:  Awareness: Are we aware of the ethical issue we’re a part of?

• Do we know all the facts? 

• Is this an ethical problem or a legal one? Or both?

• Can it be resolved simply by calling upon the law or referring to an organizational policy?

• Am I aware of the people involved in this case and who may be affected by my decision and action?

B.  Beliefs:  What are my moral beliefs? What do I stand for?  Most of us know if we give it some serious thought.  What we decide and do in a given ethical situation depends on our moral beliefs, principles, values and virtues — or lack thereof. We may ask:

• What kind of person am I?  Would I want this done to me or to those I love?

• Would it be responsible of me if I thought everyone should act this way in my situation?

• Am I setting a good example or a bad example?

• Can I continue to respect myself given the probable outcomes of my action? 

C.  Consequences:  Use moral imagination to think about consequences for ourselves and others, not only now but into the future as well. It’s the ripple effect. Our actions may indirectly affect others we don’t know.

• Who may be affected by my decision?

• How may my decisions/actions affect other and myself?

 D.   Decision:  Given the facts of the case, our own personal ethics, and the consequences that our decision and action will have on others, what is the best thing to do in this case?  

• Would I mind my action being broadcast on the six o’clock news?

• Could I justify my actions to my family and close friends?

• What advice would I give to a close friend who had the same decision to make as I do? 

Just taking the time to pause and go over these questions when we are making an important decision, can take us out of the default moral mode we live in and, hopefully, out of the trap of just assuming we’re good people, without truly delivering on that assumption.

Are You Teaching Quality

April 28, 2017

Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the death of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values as seen in The New York Times.

The book is not really about Zen (a form of Buddhism popularized by Alan Watts and the Beatnik generation) or about repairing your motorcycle. “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”

Along with the Bible and St. Augustine, this book was most influential in my life.

While teaching rhetoric at Montana State University in Bozeman, another professor asked while passing him in the corridor, “Are you teaching quality?”

That led him into a deep dive into the meaning of quality.

Part is philosophical as he detailed his battles with the famous leader of philosophy at the University of Chicago. (I’ve read Mortimer Adler. I prefer Pirsig.) I think he was right about the decline in western thinking with the over emphasis on rationality thanks to Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter).

Part was details on working on his motorcycle preparing for a cross-country trip with his son and two friends. He must have been worse than me, by the way, as a travel companion. I often get lost in thinking. He must have gone a bit overboard on that.

He talked about learning skills in metalworking to do his own repairs because he was upset with the lack of care so many mechanics took in repairing thing.

Quality in part comes from caring about what you do.

He also taught logical troubleshooting. Something more of us need when we approach a problem.

Some Days You’re Just Tired

April 28, 2016

I’ve had very little time to sit and think this week. Shortly, I’ll have many hours to sit and think.

Some days you’re just tired. Physically. And you need a break. I’m at breakfast in Hannover, Germany. It’s midnight in Ohio. Weirdest thing is I’ll have dinner in Ohio in 18 hours. I’ll take the train to the airport in 45 minutes, 1 hour flight to Munich, then almost 10 hours to Chicago. Then an hour to Dayton.

This week I’ve walked an average 5 miles a day for four days. That doesn’t count standing while interviewing people and taking notes. But being around all those people is energizing. There are many ideas. Many people working on the advancement of manufacturing technology.

I’ve learned over many years of this type of work. Appreciate your downtime. While I have energy, I’ll write all my notes from the show and post to my business blog, The Manufacturing Connection. Then, I’ll put some music on and relax and sleep for a few hours of the flight.

I have protein bars in the backpack. Never eat the airline food. It’s too full of fat and sugar. Drink water, not soda or alcohol (well, maybe one glass of red wine–for my health of course). Unfortunately, I’ll get home too late for Yoga class (I have come directly from Germany to Yoga–a great way to wind down the week).

By the way, this trade show is so huge that I walked that much and only really covered 3 buildings out of 20 or so that comprise the entire “Hannover Fair”. Perhaps 100,000 people here. Nothing in the US comes close to this scale. And the variety of languages you hear walking around.

There are rhythms. Energy and effort. Pause and reflect. I’m looking forward to the pause and reflect thing.