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10 Step Power-Method To Systematically Solve Virtually Any Problem

10 Step Power-Method To Systematically Solve Virtually Any Problem

What is the first thing you do when you have a problem? Find solutions?

The first thing you have to do to resolve any problem is not to find solutions. It’s to ask yourself important questions.

Similar to a mathematical problem you had to solve in elementary school, there is always a question at the end of each problem. If there isn’t a specific question at the end of each problem, you won’t know what to solve.

Below are 10 steps you can follow to systematically solve any problem you have. At the end of each step, you’ll find suggested questions that help you solve your problem.

1. Assess if your problem needs to be solved.

Why find solutions to a problem when your problem doesn’t need to be solved in the first place?

Your mind loves to create problems for you to solve. It’s mentally stimulating. But sometimes, if you take a step back and assess your problem, you may find that your problem may not be something you need to solve.

For example, my friend told me that drinking coke is his vice. But his vice isn’t necessary something that needs to be solved. If the benefits he receives from drinking coke outweigh the benefits of not drinking it, why does he need to change his habit? Even if he tries to change, it’s highly likely he would fail because of the benefit he receives from drinking coke.

So whenever you face a new problem, first ask yourself why you want to solve the problem. Assess the cost and benefits of solving and not solving the problem and determine if the problem is still a problem you need to solve.

Suggested Questions:

  • Why do you want to solve this problem?
  • What are the benefits and costs of solving or not solving this problem?
  • Is the benefit of solving this problem more than the benefit of not solving this problem?
  • Is the cost of solving this problem more than the cost of not solving this problem?

2. Identify the underlying problem clearly.

Every time you have a problem, go deeper and ask yourself if there is a deeper underlying problem. What you define as the problem may just be a symptom.

For example, you have a constant headache. Taking medicine will only resolve this problem short-term. It will only help you ease your pain for now. Your headache may just be  a symptom of the problem.

The real problem could be a lack of sleep and dehydration. And if you go deeper and understand why you allow yourself so little sleep, you may find that the bigger problem you have is poor time management or work stress.

Identifying the underlying problem helps you get to the root of the issue. Solving it helps you remove all the small, recurring symptoms that it creates.

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If your problem isn’t clearly defined, then there is no point in finding solutions to it. Because you will end up solving the wrong problem or a problem that is of little value to you.

Suggested Questions:

  • What is the underlying problem here?
  • Is the problem you have defined a symptom instead?
  • What could be causing your current problem now?

3. Define specific and measurable objectives.

Now that you have defined your problems clearly, you can start to develop a strategic plan to tackle your problem.

But before you think of solutions, think of the objectives you are trying to achieve first. Because your problem will never be resolved if you do not have specific and measurable objectives to tell you that your problem has been resolved.

For example, you have identified that your problem is not having enough money to support yourself.

Finding more ways to earn money is good but without a clear objective you can’t check at any point in time if you have resolved your problem or not.

However, if you have determined your objective is to earn $5,000 each month in order to solve a financial problem, you will know that you are beginning to solve your problem when you do earn $5,000 in a month.

Moreover, it’s easier to come up with strategies and test their effectiveness when you have specific and measurable objectives defined.

Suggested Questions:

  • What are your objectives?
  • What are you trying to achieve by resolving this problem?
  • Are your objectives specific and measurable?
  • Does your objectives let you know your progress at any point in time?
  • Does your objectives help you determine if you have solved your problem or not?

4. Come up with as many solutions as you can.

The key to this step is to not filter any ideas you have.

No matter how crazy or how impossible your ideas may sound at first, write them down. Think about the constraints later (discussed in next step.) For now, just let your mind think freely and come up with as many solutions as possible.

For example, if you want to spend 2 hours more each week with your family, think of all the things you are willing to give up for your family. It could be spending less time watching TV, cutting down your commute time or spending less time at work. Even if they don’t seem possible at first, don’t dismiss them yet.

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If you are lost, look for other people who have the same problem as you and understand how they have solved their problem. Their experience will give you great insights into how to solve your problem.

Suggested Questions:

  • What can you do to reach your objectives?
  • What do you think is impossible to do but could help you achieve your objectives?
  • How can you achieve your objectives if you aren’t limited by any constraints?
  • Who has the same problem as you?
  • How did they solve their problem?

5. Determine your constraints and refine your solutions.

Now that you have come up with solutions, it’s time to determine your constraints. Your constraints could be time, deadlines, money, resources or even fears that are blocking you from reaching your objectives.

Using the same example above, you have identified that to have more time for your family the solution is to spend less time at work. However, you feel that it’s not possible to knock off work time because you have so many things to do.

Determine if your constraints are true or just assumptions. Can you eliminate your constraints? Perhaps some of your work doesn’t need to be completed urgently.

Even if your constraints are true and you can’t eliminate them, use them to help you come up with better solutions. Combine your constraints with your initial solution and ask yourself a better question.

So for the example above, ask yourself questions such as:

  • How do I knock off work time while completing the work I need to produce? (Maybe I can trade tasks with my colleagues and do the work that I can do more efficiently.)
  • How can I do my work faster and produce the same outcome? (Maybe I can improve my personal workflow or change the existing way of doing things.)

Suggested Questions:

  • What constraints do you have that prevent you from solving your problem?
  • Is your constraint true or just an assumption?
  • Can you eliminate the constraints you have?
  • What questions can you ask yourself to come up with a better solution?
  • How can you do things differently but yet produce the same results?

6. Pick the best solution.

Having many solutions is good, but it’s important to pick one solution and focus on it.

To pick the best solution, go through your list of solutions and identify the solution that will give you the most results but takes the least time, effort and resources.

Why should you do this?

Implementing the solution that produce the most results will be fine if your solution works out. But what if it doesn’t? You need to think about what you will lose if your solution fails completely. Is it something you can live with?

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Choose a solution which you can implement quickly and test if it works or not.

However, bear in mind, don’t pick the solution that is quick to implement but doesn’t produce the result you want. Always think of the results a solution can potentially provide, then implement the solution.

Suggested Questions:

  • How well can this solution solve your problem and meet your objectives?
  • How much time, effort and resources do you need to implement this solution?
  • Which solutions give you the most results but takes the least time, effort and resources?
  • If this solution fails, can you live with it?
  • Will this solution provide the results you desire?

7. Break the solution down into small action steps.

If you don’t make your solution actionable and easy for you to do, you won’t do it.

Let’s say you have a messy home and your solution is to clean it up. But cleaning it up seems like a lot of work. So what do you do?

You break it into smaller tasks that you can do within 5 – 30 minutes. For example:

  • Put the books on the table back into the cupboard.
  • Empty the trash.

Instead of tackling your problem or implementing your solution fully, chunk it down to bite size so that you can do a bit each day without overwhelming yourself.

Suggested Questions:

  • What do you need to do to implement this solution?
  • How can you break the solution down into small action steps?
  • What can you do within 5 to 30 minutes?
  • Are the action steps manageable or still too overwhelming?
  • How can you break your action steps even further?

8. Ask for help.

You don’t have to solve your problem alone. But you also don’t want to turn your problem into other people’s problem.

After you break down your solution into small actionable steps, it’ll be easier for you to ask others for help, and others are more likely to help you because you will have made it simple for them to help you.

Go through your list of action steps, pick tasks that you think others can do better and faster than you. And simply ask others for help. It doesn’t have to be restricted to friends and family. You can hire a virtual assistant online or someone professional to help you implement your strategy.

Apart from helping you with action steps, you can also ask or hire someone to be your accountability partner. For example, hiring a trainer to help you lose weight.

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You will report your progress to that person every week and tell him or her what you are going to do next week. Having someone holding you accountable will keep you on track.

Suggested Questions:

  • What action steps are easy enough that others are willing to help you?
  • What action steps can others do better and faster than you?
  • Who will be suitable to help you with these tasks?
  • Do you need someone professional to help you with some of the action steps?
  • Who can you seek or hire to be your accountability partner?

9. Prioritize, schedule and follow up.

For the remaining action steps, prioritize them according to importance. Similar to step #6, pick the action steps that take the less time and effort to do but give you the most results.

You want to start off with some easy tasks to get your momentum going and let them build up your confidence.

Pick a few action steps that you think you can complete in a week and schedule them. Then, find a time each week to schedule your next action steps for the week.

For those action steps that you have outsourced to others in step #8, you also need to schedule a time to follow up with the other party and check their progress.

This step is crucial because it minimizes procrastination. If you don’t put your action steps on your calendar, you most likely won’t do it.

Suggested Questions:

  • What are three to five action steps that you can complete this week?
  • When would you be doing these action steps?
  • What actions do you need to take next week?
  • When would you be following up on the action steps that you have outsourced?
  • Have you scheduled these action steps on your calendar?

10. Take action and go back to the previous steps if necessary.

After you have scheduled your action steps, take action accordingly. If you are stuck, go back to any of the previous steps and revise your strategy.

Don’t be afraid to start all over again. You have already gained knowledge and experience in solving the problem from this process.

Even if you are not stuck, it’s good to take a step back and see if you are solving the correct problem, using the most effective strategies and making progress.

Also, check if you have already resolved the problem with the objectives you established in step #3. If you have resolved your problem, there’s no need to carry out the other miscellaneous action steps. Just celebrate what you have achieved so far and congratulate yourself for a job well done.

Suggested Questions:

  • Are the actions that you have taken producing any results?
  • Are you feeling stuck or not seeing any progress?
  • Which step do you need to go back to and revise your strategy?
  • Have your objectives in step #3 been met?
  • If so, do you still need to carry out the other miscellaneous action steps?

Featured photo credit: Worried!/Alon via flickr.com

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Last Updated on February 20, 2019

How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Smart Choices

How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Smart Choices

As humans, we typically operate on cognitive autopilot. We rarely stop and reflect on how we interpret information and create mental models which replicate our perception of reality.

But when our mental models fail to match reality, we simply ignore reality and operate throughout the day on implicit assumptions. These are not conscious choices. Our mental models allow us a simple way to cope with reality, yet we fail to confront reality when it is different than our mental model. Essentially, we have unknowingly created a ready-made default mechanism. [1]

So, what can we do?

We must first take time to reflect on our critical thinking skills. By simply understanding how you interpret and perceive information differently than everyone else is a great first step. To truly upgrade your critical thinking skills, you must examine how thoughts arise in your mind and how they got there.

Critical thinking is about asking yourself how you make choices. We can choose to believe something we hear or see; however, why do we choose to believe something we hear or see?

As a Red Team Member in the U.S. Army, I will explain how I upgrade my critical thinking skills using Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop as a framework for critical thinking. I will then demonstrate practical ways to upgrade your critical thinking skills for a sharper mind using tools and techniques from the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) Center for Applied Critical Thinking (also known as the Red Team school) and The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook (also known as The Red Team Handbook).[2]

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking can be explained in a number of ways. Let’s quickly examine a few definitions:

  • “Critical thinking is a process, the goal of which is to make reasonable decisions about what to believe and what to do.” – Robert Enis
  • “Critical thinking means developing an ever better worldview and using it well in all aspects of your life. The essence of critical thinking is questioning and arguing logically.” – Gary Jason
  • “Critical thinking is searching for hidden assumptions, noticing various facets, unraveling different strands, and evaluating what is most significant. It implies conscious, deliberate inquiry, and especially it implies adopting a skeptical state of mind.” – Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau

To me, critical thinking is as follows:

“Critical thinking is observing the world with an open and skeptical mindset with the goal of exploring all alternatives objectively (as much as possible). It is our ability to orient our mental models to view reality through an emotionless lens seeking the truth by questioning our own assumptions and deconstructing arguments logically. It is our ability to identify gaps and uncover what is missing to improve our quality of decisions. Finally, it is our ability to unravel different strands of significant information through a continuous stream of feedback so that we continuously destroy and create new mental models allowing us to act closer to reality.” – Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Critical Thinking Framework: OODA Loop

I use John Boyd’s OODA Loop as a framework for critical thinking. It is similar to Swarm Intelligence, where we use simple rules to allow the collective intelligence to emerge. The simple rules are Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

    The OODA Loop is a high-speed decision making and feedback process in four stages: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.[3] The OODA Loop is a continuous feedback loop where the objective is to go through the loop faster than your opponent.

    I use simple rules provided within the OODA Loop to assist me in speeding up my critical and creative thinking abilities. However, do not confuse the word “simple” with “simplistic” as the OODA Loop uses simple rules within a complex system (which is exactly what the OODA Loop is).

    The key to the loop is feedback. The OODA Loop is similar to Double-Loop Learning, where the goal is to modify decision-making in light of new experience.

    Double-Loop Learning is the first loop uses goals or decision making rules, the second loop enables their modification… hence, double-loop.[4]

      Chris Argyris writes about Double-Loop Learning in Teaching Smart People How To Learn,

      “A thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degree is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask why am I set to 68 degree? and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaged in double-loop learning.

      The overarching guide for my use of the OODA Loop is as follows:

      Scout Mindset

      I will talk about this more in the How-To Guide: Tools to Apply the Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop section below.

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      Objectivity

      It’s about seeking truth. Here we should seek to follow a concept introduced by Immanuel Kant as a way of evaluating motivations for actions – called the Categorical Imperative. Kant defines a categorical imperative as an absolute or an unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself. For example, “Act only according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” For more information, visit the Categorical Imperative.

      Avoid Emotion

      Imagine you can physically remove yourself from your body and objectively view how you make decisions. It’s like pulling your mind from your body.

      Reasoning Backwards

      This is essentially solving problems by working backwards. A simple example of this method is working backwards to solve a math problem.

      For example, solve the following problem: “I think of a number and add three to it, multiply the result by 2, subtract 4 and divide by 7. The number I end up with is 2. What was the number I first thought of?” To solve, read the problem backwards. You start with: 2 x 7 = 14. Then take 14 + 4 = 18. From there take 18 / 2 = 9. Then take 9 – 3 = 6. Finally, the number you first thought of was 6.

      Moreover, Reasoning Backwards can be viewed through the lens of deduction. I prefer deduction over induction and here is why:

      An example of Inductive Reasoning is: this raven is black, that raven is black, all ravens are black.

      Deductive Reasoning is: All ravens are black, that raven is black, therefore it is black.

      We make deductions from laws to see what should happen and then experiment to see if our prediction was right. Think about it this way… to test whether a burner is hot, we must touch the burner first using Inductive Reasoning; however, if we were to use Deductive Reasoning, we would first predict the burner to be hot and would realize there is not need to touch it.

      One last benefit of Reasoning Backwards is that it forces our linear and logical mind to catch things we wouldn’t normally catch. For example, read the following sentence:

      After reading this sentence, you will realize that the the brain doesn’t recognize a second ‘the’.

      Now read the sentence again, this time read it backwards. Did you notice that you missed the second ‘the’?

      Think-Write-Share

      The UFMCS uses this as the single most important idea to enable critical thinking. For example, prior to taking on an issue, we should first think independently and reflectively, then write down our thoughts (which assists us in shaping and refining them), then share them in a disciplined manner. This takes us from divergence to convergence.

      Dialectical Method

      Boyd described a thought experiment in a presentation called Strategic Game of ? and ?. Through the process of Destructive Deduction (analyze and pull apart mental concepts into discrete parts) and Creative Induction (using these elements to form new mental concepts) we can create a new mental model that more closely aligns with reality.

      Part 1 of his question:

      “Imagine that you are on a ski slope with other skiers…that you are in Florida riding in an outboard motorboat, maybe even towing water-skiers. Imagine that you are riding a bicycle on a nice spring day. Imagine that you are a parent taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads.”

      Part 2:

      “Now imagine that you pull the skis off but you are still on the ski slope. Imagine also that you remove the outboard motor from the motorboat, and you are no longer in Florida. And from the bicycle you remove the handle-bar and discard the rest of the bike. Finally, you take off the rubber treads from the toy tractor or tanks. This leaves only the following separate pieces: skis, outboard motor, handlebars and rubber treads.”

      What do you imagine could be created using the remaining parts? A Snowmobile

      Let’s now turn our attention to the four simple rules within the OODA Loop.

      The Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop: Simple Rules to Guide You

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        Observe

        Think of how we use sensors and gather information. In an ant colony, this is where ants shoot pheromones to signal others when they have found food.

        Here we are detecting events within our environment and identifying change (or lack thereof). This could also be identified as Locate or Perceive (think swarming tactics or artificial intelligence).

        Steps:

        • Find out what is really there.
        • Observe first and gather data.
        • Identify the uncommon and common things. As Sherlock Holmes famously said, “What is out of common is a guide.” A great video on this point is The most unlikely threat from the hit movie Men in Black – watch the following video:
        • Begin with a blank and open mind.
        • Remember that there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

        Key questions to ask:

        • What happened?
        • What are we being asked?
        • What do we know?

        Key tools to use:

        • 6 Words. This is simply writing a short and precise phrase summarizing your thinking into a set number of words.
        • Think-Write-Share (see above)
        • Outside-in thinking
        • Key assumptions check. We all start with assumptions and it is extremely important to be aware of our own. Understanding this will allow us to explain the logic of an argument and expose faulty logic. It will also help us simulate thinking about a problem and uncover hidden links between factors. Let’s examine some key questions to ask here: 1) How much confidence do you have with this assumption?; 2) What explains your confidence with this assumption?; 3) What must exist for this assumption to be valid?; and 4) If this assumption proves wrong, will this change your line of thinking about the issue?
        • Complex Grammatical Structures

        Orient

        Think of a construction site where destruction (analysis) and creation (synthesis) take place.

        John Boyd identified orientation as our way to survive and grow within a complex and ever changing world. This could also be identified as Converge or Understand.

        Steps:

        • Identify your biases and know how they impact decision making.
        • Be aware of your worldview and how it shapes the world you see.
        • Be aware of multiple perspectives and not just your own.
        • Place new observations in context with older observations.
        • Reason carefully. Find out what others cannot.
        • Determine what is vital (think of the Pareto Principle).
        • Seek out what’s NOT right in front of you (determine what’s missing).
        • Remember what Sherlock Holmes said, “Never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.”
        • Think in terms of metaphors and analogies.

        Key questions to ask:

        • Where are the pattern of bullet holes NOT located?
        • Why?
        • What are we missing?
        • Where are the gaps?
        • What are the relationships?
        • What are the different perspectives?

        Key tools to use:

        • Argument Deconstruction (see below).
        • 4 Ways of Seeing. This is a powerful tool for looking at multiple perspectives.
          • Dialectical Method (thesis, antithesis, synthesis)
          • Analysis + Synthesis. By breaking a concept or problem apart (analysis) we develop knowledge; yet, it’s when we piece the parts back together (synthesis) and create something new that we develop understanding or wisdom.
          • Onion Model. Hofstede’s Onion Model is a great tool to find values at the core. It is a great way to prompt better questions, look at something or someone or some group from multiple perspectives, and expose ignorance.
            • neXt – Innovative Framework. Professor Ramesh Raskar, head of MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Research Group, created an easy-to-use framework for inventing the future – right now. Watch the following video:

            Decide

            Think of a hypothesis like you would when putting a puzzle together, where you are making predictions then testing those predictions.

            Here we are to decide among alternatives generated in the orientation phase. This could be identified as Attack or Predict.

            Steps:

            • Identify and select your next action based on orientation and local knowledge.
            • Find the dog who isn’t barking (see below in the How-to guide: Tools to apply the critical thinker’s OODA Loop section).
            • Determine what would have to exist for something to be true.
            • Think like Sherlock Holmes – eliminate the impossible so that what remains (however improbable) is the truth.
            • Think like a detective – piece out what is key evidence verses artifact (not important).
            • Try to prove the opposite (Devil’s Advocacy Red Team tool).

            Key questions to ask:

            • What evidence is not being seen for the hypothesis to be true?
            • Where are the pattern of bullet holes not located?
            • What is vital evidence and what is simply an artifact (which will get you stuck in the wrong rabbit hole)?
            • Where is the dog who isn’t barking?

            Key tools to use:

            • Algorithmic Thinking (IF – AND – THEN).
            • Cynefin Framework
            • Lean Six Sigma
            • Devils Advocacy. Here you are trying to prove the opposite and disprove the hypothesis. Essentially, you are trying to prove the limitations.
            • Alternative Futures Analysis
            • Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) (see below)
            • The Value of Possible. Here is a logical system incorporating elements of language. In this method, we have three truth values: False, True, and Possible. Logical connective rules: True is p, Possible is q, and False has no value. This allows for something to be fuzzy (not clearly black or white… true or false) but could still be true.

            Act

            Think of testing and retesting a hypothesis.

            According to Boyd, actions should be rapid, surprising, ambiguous, and ever changing. This could be identified as Disperse or Learn.

            Steps:

            • Carry out your decision (or selected action) while the opponent is still observing the last action.[5]
            • Present your information in simple ways. For example, use SEE-I and What? – So What? – Now What? to describe your situation/problem/scenario.
            • As Sherlock Holmes said, “Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.”
            • Develop quick “fly-like” reactions.
            • Use simple rules to guide your actions or the actions of a group.
            • Find the desired path. For example, watch how routes on a college campus naturally form. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we allowed these to naturally form then simply pave those locations. For more on this idea, watch the following video Find and Pave the Desired Path:

            Key questions to ask:

            • What did I learn?
            • What type of feedback did I receive?
            • What type of feedback am I still receiving (we are continuously receiving feedback)?
            • What can I do with this new information as my OODA Loop begins again?

            Key tools to use:

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            How to Apply the Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop

            1. Argument Deconstruction

            The UFMCS provides a powerful framework for deconstructing an argument.

            The method:

            • What is the argument? Here the argument = problem (or premise) + reasons + conclusion
            • Check to make sure the right problem is identified and examine the point of view of the other person.
            • Search for and ask for clarification of ambiguous words.
            • Look for value conflicts and check key assumptions. More specifically, look for prescriptive assumptions (statement made on the way things should be) and descriptive assumptions (statement made on the way things are).
            • Look for logical fallacies.
            • Is the person using a heuristic or rule of thumb?
            • Check the evidence provided. Does the person use personal experience, potentially deceptive statistics (use numbers without percentages – percentages without numbers), appeal to authorities, faulty analogies, intuition, etc.
            • Is there another plausible hypotheses which might explain the situation?
            • Are there any other conclusions you can draw from the argument?
            • What implications does accepting the argument pose?

            2. The 4 Agreements

            Another great way the U.S. Army Red Team community upgrades their critical thinking ability is through the following four agreements:

            1. Don’t make assumptions.
            2. Don’t take anything personal.
            3. Be impeccable with your words.
            4. Always do your best.

            Finally, I recommend using the following mnemonic. I created this tool to assist me as I move through the Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop. Additionally, I recommend writing this down on a note-card and keeping a copy with you at all times.

            3. SDWFAP

            Scouting

            Think like a Scout – the drive to see what’s really there.

            In the following video Why you think you’re right-even if you’re wrong, Julia Galef examines the motivation between two mindsets (Scout mindset vs Soldier mindset) and how they shape the way we interpret information:

            Galef explains that Scouts are curious and are more likely to feel pleasure when they learn new information. She says it’s like an itch to solve a puzzle. We should strive to develop a Scout Mindset. Let’s examine qualities Scout’s possess:

            • The Scout’s job is not to attack or defend, but to understand – to go out, map the terrain and identify potential obstacles.
            • Scout’s are intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations.
            • More likely to think it’s virtuous to test your own beliefs.
            • They do not say someone is weak for simply changing their mind.
            • They are grounded; meaning their self-worth isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are about an argument.
            • They are proud (and not ashamed) when they notice they might be wrong about something.
            • They are intrigued (and not defensive) when they encounter information that contradicts their beliefs.
            • They yearn not to defend their beliefs, but to see the world as clearly as they possibly can.
            • Above all, the Scout seeks to know what’s really there.
            Dog

            Find the Dog who isn’t barking.

            In Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, we are presented with a mystery of the disappearance of a famous racehorse the night prior to a race and the murder of the horse’s trainer. Mike Skotnicki describes the story about The Dog that Didn’t Bark:

            “The dog that didn’t bark. What we can learn from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about using the absence of expected facts.” – Mike Skotnicki

            Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery in part by recognizing that no one he spoke to in his investigation remarked that they had heard barking from the watchdog during the night.

            Gregory (Scotland Yard detective), “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

            Sherlock Holmes, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

            Gregory, “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

            Sherlock Holmes, “That was the curious incident.”

            The fact that the dog did not bark when we would have expected it to while the horse was stolen led Holmes to the conclusion that the criminal was not a stranger to the dog, but someone the dog recognized; thus, would not cause the dog to bark.

            Was

            What would have to exist for something to be true?

            Here we can use a UFMCS Red Team tool called What If? Analysis. This tool assumes an event has already happened with potential impact (positive or negative) and explains how it might play out. This is a powerful technique for challenging a closed mindset by shifting the focus from whether an event could occur to how it might happen.

            The method:

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            • Clearly state the conventional line assuming the event has happened, then step back and consider what alternative outcomes are too important to dismiss, even if unlikely.
            • Select triggering events that allowed the event to happen.
            • Develop a chain of argumentation.
            • Reason backwards from the event in concrete ways (specify what must occur at each stage).
            • Choose one or more plausible pathways.
            • Develop and monitor a list of indicators or observables for each scenario that would assist in detecting the beginning of the event.

            Another technique you can use here is The Reductio ad Absurdum. This is a simple yet powerful tool.

            The method:

            • Assume a statement to be true and see what conclusions you can discern from it. If you find you get a contradiction, you know the initial statement is false as contradictions are always false.
            • It allows you to determine if a statement is false by showing the contradiction.

            For more on this technique, I recommend reading Logic: A Graphic Guide.

            Frightened

            What’s not right in Front of us?

            Here we can use a combination of tools and techniques.

            For example, if you have a team or group of people, you could use what’s called a Premortem and/or Postmortem Analysis. This is an application of mental stimulation and is a great tool for Group Think Mitigation. We could use the 5-Why technique after we have asked what happened. We could also use Algorithmic Thinking where we perform an If-And-Then series of questions.

            Let’s combine the three and see how this can be used:

            • Assume an event has happened or after an event has happened – use 5-Why to identify causes as to why this event happened.
            • Generate a list of reasons for the event with the following simple rules: 1) The more ideas the better; 2) Build on other peoples ideas using them as prompts for your own; 3) Wacky ideas are fine (and sometimes preferred).
            • Ask a series of If-And-Then questions:
            • IF an Active Shooter is spotted AND appropriate signals are in place THEN we should be able to act/respond quicker.
            • This can also be used with Propositional Calculus. For example, “If you are a bird, then you have wings,” could be rephrased as, “You cannot be a bird and not have wings.” It is a proposition using one connective such as: IF-Then. It can then be transformed into an expression using the other connectives “and” and “not” without changing the validity of the statement.
            At

            Ask what evidence is not being seen, but would be expected for a hypothesis to be true.

              Conduct an Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH). The objective is to identify alternative explanations (hypotheses) and evaluate the evidence that will disconfirm rather than confirm the hypotheses. This is how I reason backwards.

              The method:

              • Brainstorm and list all possible hypotheses (no matter how improbable they may seem). List the hypotheses first then the evidence (think deductive reasoning). You can list the evidence first, then the hypotheses if you prefer (think inductive reasoning).
              • List all significant evidence and arguments relevant to each hypotheses.
              • Reason backwards by creating a divergent systems diagram with each hypotheses from right to left (to mimic backwards reasoning)
              • Start to converge by preparing a matrix listing the hypotheses across the top with each piece of evidence down the side.
              • Determine if each piece of evidence is consistent, inconsistent, or non applicable.
              • Refine the matrix by reconsidering each hypotheses. Here you can even add new information if applicable.
              • Focus on disproving each hypotheses rather than proving one. Tally your evidence that are inconsistent and consistent to see which hypotheses are the weakest and strongest (you can also identify this using your systems diagram… +/- for strong and weak connections).
              • Ask what evidence is not being seen, but would be expected for a given hypotheses to be true. Ask if denial and/or deception is a possibility.
              • Identify and monitor indicators that would be consistent and inconsistent with each hypotheses.

              A good example of ACH can be found at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

              Patterns

              Where are the Pattern (or location) of bullet holes NOT located?

                Statistician Abraham Wald was tasked with helping the Allies decide where to add armor to bombers during World War II.[6] The Allies hoped extra protection would help minimize bomber losses due to enemy anti-aircraft fire. They thought the answer was obvious and the bombers returning from missions showed them where to put the extra armor. However, Wald disagreed. He explained the damage actually revealed the locations that needed the least additional armor. In essence, it’s where the bombers could be hit and still survive the flight home.

                This is an example of selection or survivorship bias, where we typically only consider information that’s presented to us and ignore information that is absent, yet might just be significantly relevant. For example, the locations on the bombers without bullet holes might just be the location to reinforce.

                Finally, we should be extremely carefully of what we remove from a system or process. We have to be aware of the second and third order effects.

                I will leave you with one final video: How Wolves Change Rivers:

                More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

                Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies: The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook
                [2] USA Army: The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook
                [3] Frans P.B. Osinga: Science, Strategy and War
                [4] Wikipedia: Double-loop learning
                [5] Ahmad Shehabat and Teodor Mitew: Distributed Swarming and Stigmergic Effects on ISIS Networks OODA Loop Model
                [6] Seeking Alpha: How Survivorship Bias Distorts Reality

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