Tag Archives: Thinking

Simplicity – An Expert’s View

In his book Simplicity, Edward de Bono, one of the World’s greatest experts on thinking, outlines his case for simplicity.

He believes that complexity is always failed simplicity.

Simplicity, he states,  is not always the natural state, you have to make it happen.  And that might require change.

Just because something has endured doesn’t mean it is the best way to do things now.  There may be a better, simpler way.

The lazier a person is, the more likely they are to find the simpler solution. Henry Ford employed lazy people in his plant as they could find the most efficient manner of producing a car and the result was an efficient production line.

But unless simplicity is set as a priority, it will not be ‘built in’ to any solution.

There is an elegance in simplicity that is appealing and often cost effective.  For example, software that is too comprehensive is too complex.  Only a fraction of the functions of Microsoft Office are used by the majority of users and so lower cost, less comprehensive solutions, such as Google docs can thrive.

Recognising that complexity also generates waste, the Lean Six Sigma movement looks to remove all waste and only undertake processes that add value.  These are often the most simple solution.

Edward de Bono has a passion for simplicity and as always, his research is comprehensive and his conclusions are well supported, resulting in 10 rules for simplicity.

His rules are:

  1. You need to put a high value on simplicity – Very few people do this.  We look for simplicity only when the complexity to difficult to manage.  If a task is within our skill level and not too taxing, we will not look too hard to make the process more simple, despite the value that simplicity can add.
  2. You must be determined to seek simplicity – The value of simplicity is something that you need to actively seek.  We generally like simplicity when it costs us nothing or when it is free to implement.  There are are however savings to be made in implementing simplicity.
  3. You need to understand the subject matter very well – You need to be very clear about what you are trying to do.  You need to understand the values, processes and outcome involved. If you don’t understand the system fully, you may end up with a simplistic result rather than just being a simple solution.
  4. You need to design alternatives and possibilities – Design is critical here to find alternative methods to achieve which are both effective and simple.
  5. You need to challenge and discard existing elements – Challenge everything.  Everything needs to justify its continual existence.  Systems and operations have a natural tendency to grow complicated.  if you can’t justify it being there, then shed it!
  6. You need to be prepared to start all over again – It can be very tempting to modify an existing structure rather than build from scratch.  The more difficult and expensive the system, the less people want to scrap.
  7. You need to use concepts – Concepts are useful for simplifying complexity.  They provide the first stage of setting the direction and purpose.  Concepts are designed to be vague, however, after setting the direction, you must get specific to simplify the system.
  8. You may need to break things into smaller units – Complex systems work best when they are broken down into sub-systems.  Smaller is inherently simpler.
  9. You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity – Comprehensive can mean complex.  Simplicity may require you not look for comprehensive solutions to ensure what you get is as simple as possible.
  10. You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed – Users? Owners? Customers?  Simplicity is a trade off.  To make something simple for one stakeholder might make it more complex for another.

Consider these rules when you are crafting a solution or as part of a business process improvement project.  Simplicity gives you an elegant and often friction free solution which sounds like something to aspire to.

Dare to Aspire

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Ladder of Inference – Peter Senge

Although we like to think of ourselves as evolved thinkers, we have actually evolved to make decisions that shortcut most active thinking.

Consider our ancestors as they walked across the savannah, looking for their next meal, they too were being hunted.

The bushman that waited to consider if the moving shadow was actually a lion rather than a gazelle often became the lion’s next meal! It paid us to assume things and the bushman that believed all moving shadows ‘could’ be lions often survived b running away to hunt (and breed) another day. They also often missed out on a meal too!

So we, as a race, have selectively bred ourselves to make shortcuts in our decision making bast on our beliefs.

Beliefs therefore  are a significant factor in how we see the world. Our beliefs and values constrain our thinking so that we can make judgements more rapidly. The verb for this is ‘to prejudge’, and it is the root of the term prejudice. We make decisions with a much of the thinking already completed from our previous experience.

Having recently re-read Peter Senge’s ‘The Fifth Discipline’ I came across the Ladder of Inference.

This model describes the thinking process that we go through, often without realising it, to get from a fact to a decision or action.

Figure 1 shows the ‘thinking stages’ as rungs on a ladder.

Inference Ladder

Figure 1.  The Inference Ladder

The model highlights the thinking steps that can lead to jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Starting at the bottom of the ladder, we:

  • Observe things from reality and identify facts
  • From these observations we select specific data based on our beliefs and prior experience
  • Interpret what the data mean
  • Apply our existing assumptions (sometimes without even considering them)
  • Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions
  • Develop beliefs based on these conclusions
  • Take actions that seem correct because they are based on what we believe

The value of this model is that it gives us a model that helps us recognize that our thinking process can be flawed and often brings us to conclusions that are often prejudged rather than carefully considered. We naturally skip reasoning steps. If we are aware of this thinking shortfall, we can force ourselves out of the habit and take a more objective, step by step reasoning process and so reach more effective decisions.

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Six Thinking Hats

When faced with a problem, it can be beneficial to consider a number of different perspectives on that problem.

Different perspectives can often reveal different factors and features and can potentially reveal a variety of innovative solutions.

Using a structured approach to selecting these different perspectives is a sign of disciplined and logical thinking and an approach typified in Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

The approach is extremely simple but can be very effective in problem solving.

Each thinker metaphorically adopts a ‘thinking hat’ and then constrains their thinking to just that perspective. Swapping hats allows you to focus on alternative viewpoints until options are exhausted.

Edward De Bono recommends these 6 different ‘hats’ to guide you into thinking from these 6 different perspectives.

Blue Hat: Wear this hat to define the problem and scope of the issue.

White Hat: Wear this hat and focus on the facts of the situation. Look at the features, factors, functions, gaps in process and knowledge. Look for trends, patterns and developments.

Red Hat: Wear this hat to explore the emotions surrounding the problem. Note what you feel instinctively, what your gut tells you.

Yellow Hat: Wear this hat to explore the positive aspects of the issue. What about this is constructive and what can you benefit or learn from? Look for value and benefit.

Green Hat: Wear this hat to develop creative and innovation options. Imaginative solutions that break the mental mould are developed with this hat.

Black Hat: Look for things that are broken or won’t work. What is weak about the issue or solution?

Although this approach can be used by an individual, it has equal if not more effect when it is used by a group. The blue hat would direct the group, and different members of the team would wear ‘hats’ that explored the various perspectives.

The results from this approach should be interesting and useful and may even be quite dramatic. At the very least you and your team will begin to break out of your normal thinking habits.

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Tips for critical thinking

In this sound bite filled world, we are rarely given very much time to think critically about the information that we are presented with.

The media presents the message they want to in a 30 second snap shots and move on to the next story before you question the message. Written articles are little more than hidden agendas presented in small visual fields primed for mental grazing rather than serious contemplation.

Critical thinking is important to ensure you are not left thinking the same as everyone else and in the way that the media want you to.

If we all think the same, then no-one is actually thinking, just following everyone else. Here are a few tips to help you think critically:

  • Be informed – Read as much as you can on key subjects and read what different people think about those subjects. Having a variety of opinions to consider allows you to make a more informed decision about what YOU think.
  • Avoid making an early decisions – Allow yourself the time to consider and don’t pre-judge any situation or idea. Think ‘vu ja de’ not ‘de ja vu’. Look at everything as though you have never seen it before.
  • Be open to new ideas – Having a curious mind will allow you to ask questions more readily and be critical of those ideas read and hear.
  • Be honest with yourself – People have prejudices and biases, we all do. They allow us to make rapid decisions without the effort of thinking too much. Being aware of these prejudices and biases can help you be more open to alternative views.
  • Look for the truth value – Spin is endemic in the media. Look for the truth in the message and search for the reason a message is crafted in a particular way.
  • Find the facts hidden in the opinion – Facts are facts no matter which way you look at them, opinions are different views of those facts. Find the facts and develop your own opinion.

Although not a rigorous set of rules for critical thinking, applying these ideas can help you sort the information from the agenda. Even in this posting!

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