Thinking different

Beemer commented on my last post:

But it makes me think that it would be really, really useful if we had a big long list of all the different kinds of thinking the human brain can do, and if people knew what they were good and what they weren’t good at on that list.

This reminded me of one of my pet peeves, the inability of many people to even recognize the existence of different kinds of thinking, let alone actually be able to classify those different kinds and rate their ability on them. I have brought up this point several times before, including one of the Latour posts, where I state:

I think that it is so important that people are aware of the provisional nature of reality established by a collective. That they understand that there is not a “One True Reality” that only they are privy to. I also think that it reminds us to go humbly when we enter the realm of a different collective.

I think this is partially related to my last post in that to be able to recognize different kinds of thinking, one has to start thinking about thinking, which is the same sort of meta-thinking that I think leads to irony and other interesting things. Plus, y’know, most of philosophy. Meta meta meta.

While I was mulling this around just now, I came up with a funny analogy that I wanted to share (which is most of the reason I’m writing this post). We all know of the stereotype of the clueless American tourist, who, when confronted with somebody who doesn’t speak English, raises their voice and repeats their question louder and louder, as if that would make a difference. It’s almost as if they don’t recognize that the person they’re talking to (aside: I just spent 30 seconds trying to think of a noun that means “person one is talking to” – conversational target? conversant? Language geeks, I call upon you!) may use a different language.

Now think back to a meeting that you’ve had at work. Two people start the meeting with very different mental models in place of the topic of discussion. They go back and forth, each one raising their voice, because it’s almost as if they don’t recognize the other person may have a different mental model. Same mistake, different context. It’s a reminder that when we disagree with somebody, we should not automatically assume they’re wrong (except when they disagree with me, of course 😉 ), but need to take the time to figure out if they’re speaking a different (mental) language, using a different way of thinking from our own.

I believe that one of my strengths is that I’ve spent a great deal of time examining different ways of thinking and how well I use them. I recognize that I can use different ways of thinking like tools from a toolbox. Because I am open to at least considering other ways of thinking, it often makes me uniquely qualified to “translate” between them. At my last job, it was my responsibility to take the inchoate desires of the biologists and translate them into specifications that the programmers could code to. I was essentially the only person who could talk to each side in their own language.

I feel like this is an important skill, and one that will become ever more important in a world of increasing specialization. I just haven’t figured out what kind of career it sets me up for, if any. One of the ideas I floated recently when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up was being an “Innovation Catalyst”. I’m not the person who’s going to do the innovative work myself – that’s just not something I’m very good at. But I am the person who can pretty quickly grasp the implications of innovative work, be able to see the big picture, and connect it with other innovative work that I know about. I can ask the appropriate questions to push innovators in the right direction. Hence the term “Innovation Catalyst” – I’m not necessary for innovation, but I could be an element that can speed it along. It’s nothing more than an idea as of yet – I have yet to figure out if there are any practical implications. I suppose it means I should be scoping out careers like research management and possibly venture capital. Hrm. And I should note that this isn’t a new idea for me – check out this note from a year and a half ago, where I reiterate this career desire. I just need to figure out what it means.

Anyway. Just to let people know, there’s going to be a whole slew of random posts coming up – I have something like 12 post ideas recorded as drafts from the last few months, and I’ll start to knock them off in my free time. Plus whatever new ideas I have, of course. Oh, the excitement. I bet you’re just quivering with anticipation.