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Ask the Entrepreneurs: 21 Systems to Boost Business Productivity for Good

Ask the Entrepreneurs: 21 Systems to Boost Business Productivity for Good


    Ask The Entrepreneurs is a regular series where members of those involved in the Young Entrepreneur Council are asked a single question that aims to help Lifehack readers level up their own lives, whether in a area of management, communication, business or life in general.

    Here’s the question posed in this edition of Ask The Entrepreneurs:

    What productivity system can you not live without as an entrepreneur?

    1. Manage Projects With Asana

      Although Asana is a project management tool it doubles as a productivity system by making our team and clients more efficient every day. By tracking, assigning and follow up on individual tasks, Asana allows us to eliminate the noise and focus on what action has to be taken today.

      Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

      2. Share Files Through Dropbox

      Annie Wang

        This must-have app is installed on all our laptops, tablets, and phones. Since we’re often traveling or working remotely, Dropbox is absolutely essential in helping the whole team stay literally in sync. In addition, it makes updating and distributing decks that need to stay extremely up-to-date, like our Media Kit, very simple and efficient.

        Annie Wang, Her Campus Media

        3. Check It Off on Ta-da List

          Ta-da List is the simplest way that I’ve found to create and share a checklist of action items for our team. Team members claim the items that they are working on by checking them off. We have staff ranging from Palo Alto to Senegal (an eight-hour time difference), and Ta-da List keeps us on the same page.

          Allie Siarto, Loudpixel

          4. Producteev Keeps Up Productivity

            Producteev is a cross-platform productivity application. It works online, on Desktop and across mobile applications to help streamline your personal or corporate activities. Producteev is ideal for small teams and we use it extensively in my businesses.

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            Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

            5. Keep Track of Tasks on Any.DO

              I organize my life around “to-dos” and without a doubt the best app to organize these tasks is Any.DO. It’s simple and beautiful, which makes it a pleasure to use on a daily basis.

              Ben Lang, EpicLaunch

              6. Track the Noteworthy on Evernote

                Without a doubt, Evernote. I keep all meeting notes, client info and personal ideas in one place, and am able to access anything and everything from any of my devices on the go. I’ve used it religiously for the past couple years, and can’t help but wonder, “What the heck did I do before Evernote?”

                Matt Cheuvront, Proof Branding

                7. Get It Back With RescueTime

                Jennifer Vargas

                  RescueTime is a great app that runs in the background on your computer. It graphs your activity and breaks it down onto a scale from “very distracting” to “very productive.” It helps me to find the leaks in my productivity so that I can address them and get the most out of my time.

                  Jennifer Vargas, Accompl.sh

                  8. Stop Guessing With Wunderlist

                    Wunderlist has become a wonder for me. Not only is it very easy to input all of your projects, your clients and their associated priorities, but the accessibility of it constantly syncing to all of your portable devices, such as your smartphone, tablet and computer. It is unrivaled and has made my life that much easier, whether in the office or on-the-go.

                    Steven Le Vine, grapevine pr

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                    9. Root Back to BasecampHQ

                    Roger Bryan

                      I’ve used a ton of others and even tried to have my own built, but I always come back to BasecampHQ for project management.

                      Roger Bryan, RCBryan & Associates

                      10. Keep an Eye Out With Trello

                      Patrick Curtis

                        Trello allows me to easily keep track of our major tasks and the stage of development on each. It’s a simple and intuitive interface is perfect for web development teams. Best of all, it’s free.

                        Patrick Curtis, WallStreetOasis.com

                        11. Money Matters on Freshbooks

                        Susan Strayer

                          Client perception is important when you’re small. They need to see you have your act together, especially on the basics. If you can’t get that right, how can you handle their business? Invoicing and expensing with Freshbooks makes it easy for me to look good and work efficiently.

                          Susan Strayer, Exaqueo

                          12. Day-to-Day on Google Calendar

                          Bhavin Parikh

                            Without Google Calendar I’d never get anything done. Since the calendar is web-based, I always have access to it whether it’s on my laptop, iPad, or smartphone. I also use the calendar to block off times when I want to focus on a task for several hours straight.

                            Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh, Inc.

                            13. Capture Leads on Instant Customer

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                            Michael Margolis

                              This CRM system allows me to capture leads when public speaking or networking. From the audience, people can SMS to opt-in to my email list and special offer. Or they can give me a business card, and minutes after I scan it in, it sends them a series of pre-programmed emails with follow-up resources, and a promo offer.

                              Michael Margolis, Get Storied

                              14. Top the To-Do on Google Tasks

                              Eric Bahn

                                I’m a very process-oriented person and I need to have a list of things to accomplish every day. Google Tasks, which is part of your Gmail, is a free task-list service. I update my tasks constantly and it keeps me focused each day.

                                Eric Bahn, Beat The GMAT

                                15. Mix Business With Pleasure on Yammer

                                Natalie MacNeil

                                  Yammer keeps my whole team organized, on track, and in-the-know on all important communication for a particular project. It’s where we share files, discuss goals, and most importantly, where my virtual team has an opportunity to build real relationships with their peers.

                                  Natalie MacNeilShe Takes on the World

                                  16. Stay Up-to-Date Through Glasscubes

                                  Heather Huhman

                                    My team and I use Glasscubes on a daily basis for managing documents, keeping track of tasks and organizing information. It’s great because it’s really cut down on the amount of emails we were sending back and forth — and helps keep track of content and its status.

                                    Heather Huhman, Come Recommended

                                    17. Keep It Clear

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                                    Derek Shanahan

                                      I’m finding a nice balance with Clear, a new iPhone app that’s gotten tons of attention because of the way the designers rethought the touch screen user interface. Underneath, it’s a very basic to-do system, but I’ve never been big on bells and whistles when it comes to productivity. The truly incredible UI is the kicker, and seems to fit well with how I prioritize in my head, so it’s stuck!

                                      Derek Shanahan, Foodtree

                                      18. Just Do It With Do.com

                                      Lucas Sommer

                                        I use Do.com to manage all of my various business projects. It helps me track who is doing what and what is left to be done on any given project. Track time, billable hours, share files, etc. — This site can do it all for free. When I discovered it, I knew I would never go back to emails or Excel for managing projects.

                                        Lucas Sommer, Audimated

                                        19. Hire a Remote Assistant

                                        Garrett Neiman

                                          As a startup social entrepreneur, there is absolutely no way that I could afford a traditional executive assistant. Through YourRemoteAssistant.com, I have a full-time assistant for just $1,099 per month. This serve has enabled me to delegate in an entirely different way at a cost that my organization can afford.

                                          Garrett Neiman, CollegeSpring

                                          20. Pomodoro Technique for Top Productivity

                                          Brenton Gieser

                                            Apps and project management tools can help you manage and prioritize tasks effectively, but when it comes to getting stuff done, use the Pomodoro Technique. Dedicate laser focus to one and only one task for 25 minutes — make sure to use a timer! Once the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. I find that when I use this technique, I tend to not get distracted by small urgent things.

                                            Brenton Gieser, JoynIn

                                            21. Teux Deux

                                              Teux Deux is perfect for simple to-do lists and I love the accompanying iPhone app!

                                              Erin Blaskie, BSETC

                                              (Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

                                              More by this author

                                              9 No-Brainer Ways to Track Employee Time Ask the Entrepreneurs: 12 Things Entrepreneurs Should Stop Doing Ask the Entrepreneurs: 9 Best Note Taking Tools Ask the Entrepreneurs: 12 Tips for Mastering Public Speaking Ask the Entrepreneurs: 9 Tasks You Should be Outsourcing

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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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