A Thinking Reset – How Can It Be Done?


Monday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Subjectivity is objective. – Woody Allen

April has not been a good month for this blog.

7 posts in 22 days is not a particularly good writing tempo.

But I have some reasons (excuses?).

First, while there haven’t been posts on the blog, words have been created in April, interrupted by all the holidays.

I’ve been experimenting with writing longer pieces – papers, if you will. These are a first pass at the sort of stuff that can make it into print or be collected in books.

Writing for print is different from writing for online views – you tend to write in paragraphs rather than sentences – fuller thoughts rather than staccato bursts.

Text on a blog doesn’t work the same way in print – you have to work on it and rewrite – or perhaps write again to see a different kind of flow.

The other more geeky part is that I’m using Groff, a text processing language, to create the papers, learning more about the language itself in the process.

The second reason is that it’s time to take stock of what I’m working on with this blog.

There are lots of models here – models that try and explore different types of thoughts.

But what can we say about the models themselves – and what they say about the nature of thinking?

For example, many models you pick up are in the form of a 2×2 matrix.

That’s the kind of thing consultants love – four boxes to choose from and you must fit in one of them.

I was doing a programming course on Coursera and the instructor, Charles Severance, said that CSS is a declarative language – everything happens at once.

CSS, as you probably know, is the language that makes websites look good.

You write down rules about how big text should be, what font, what colour – all that sort of stuff – and then the page looks the way you want.

It just happens straight away.

Many models are like this – you look at them and they tell you all you need to know at a glance.

Other models are less sure of themselves.

Mind maps, for example, are an exploratory model.

You don’t know where you’re going with them, you just start and see where you end up.

And then there are models that tell you what to do step by step.

In programming jargon these are imperative models – they have sequences of steps that you follow.

Something like a business process or a habit.

Ok, so this is just one way of looking at models. Why does it matter?

It matters because much of how we think is still based on 1960s thinking.

Back then the engineers and economists were in charge and we thought our job was to take rational action to achieve goals.

We realised that we couldn’t know everything and take the perfect or optimal decision but we could select from alternatives and decide something that worked for us – satisficed us, in the jargon.

Many of the models we see also flow out of that mode of thinking – a positivist one.

Alternatives to positivism are interpretive approaches – ones that are only a couple of decades younger are less sure of themselves.

They see the world as created from the thoughts people have.

Not the physical world – but the social world.

The one that includes all of us.

Now one of the problems with learning that there are different ways of thinking is that one starts to look at things from one’s preferred point of view.

If you have been successful setting and meeting goals then you might wonder what I’m on about.

If you’ve been frustrated when people say one thing and act another way – speaking as if there is a plan and acting as if they’re driven by emotion and feeling – then you might be willing to give this interpretive approach a try.

But, as you might see from the nature of this post that can be confusing.

With one approach you and I can be gloriously detached from the ideas we look at.

The models we inspect sit alone and perfect – independent and proud.

With the other approach the models are one way someone else approached a problem in a different time with different people in a different situation.

There may be similarities but the differences are probably more than you think.

Some of the models might be based only on thoughts – ideas that people have had.

Like the way Plato used to work.

Others may have been tested using scientific methods suitable for testing how fast balls of different sizes drop but totally inappropriate for how people think and act.

Now, taking a step back, if you’ve made it this far you’re wondering what the heck is going on.

This post is a mix of arcane Linux stuff, arguments about thoughts that are 60 years old versus ones that are only 50 and unexplained programming metaphors.

So the one thing that you should take away is this.

Every model in this site and all the others you see don’t exist outside of the human mind.

And so, how you think about them matters.

Not me, not the creator, not anyone else.

But you.

Because although the model is generic you and your situation are unique – and that requires an approach that is designed around you and how you think.

And the kind of things I’d like to explore next is how to do that step by step.


Karthik Suresh

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