Learning to Think

In society today we tend to place a lot of emphasis on natural intelligence and knowledge gained through education, but not on the ability to actually use those things. Just peruse job postings in a technical industry or this equivalency list to see that most employers consider 3 years of education to be roughly equivalent to 5 years of on-the-job experience. And I can tell you that personally, beyond basic English and math skills, I have not used a single idea I learned in college in my 10 years of working. Nor did I learn anything about how to actively use what I was learning in the world beyond academia.

Edward de Bono, who coined the term “lateral thinking” and has spent his lifetime teaching others about thinking, summarizes the difference between knowledge and thinking as follows:

“I like to think of intelligence as being equivalent to the horsepower of a car. The skill of thinking is then the skill of the driver. There may be a powerful car driven badly and a humble car driven well. Indeed, a powerful car may be particularly dangerous because it demands a higher degree of driving skill. I believe that thinking skill, like driving skill, can be developed through training and deliberate effort.”

What’s more important than innate ability or IQ is thinking about how to use what you have. And this act of thinking itself is something that can become better over time with practice and effort. Our minds are already in nearly constant motion, worrying about what we should be doing, what to have for dinner, and a number of other things that aren’t super important. If we can start thinking like a leader, we can turn this constant mental energy into a potent force for change and self-improvement.

When we think with purpose and focus about the things that truly matter – big picture items, how we can help others, and thinking about thinking itself – we progressively become more skilled at using this tool. Our thoughts and style of thinking can and should evolve over time as we do this. Instead of thinking about what somebody said that upset us, we can learn to start thinking about why they said that thing and why it upset us. And in thinking about these underlying issues, we can develop essential insights into dealing with them appropriately.

I recommend we learn to relax when we can, but when our minds are racing, and they often are, we should will ourselves to turn that energy toward something and helpful to ourselves or others. Just think about it, what can you do to start thinking better, and using those skills you have to benefit the world around you?

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