Tag Archives: thoughtsonthinking

What does it mean to get better at thinking together?

Most of us would likely agree that it is pretty easy to think with people who hold a similar set of thoughts that we hold. Yet, truly thinking with others means thinking with those who might look at things very differently from you.

When you effectively engage with others who think differently than you, you can learn a lot. To do this – to engage – means you will listen and probe with the intent of increasing your understanding of beliefs or points of view different from your own.

When you engage with this kind of sincerity, it is wise to be ready to potentially experience a sense of disequilibrium.

Disequilibrium is a potentially productive platform for learning.  Obviously, not the kind of imbalance that is shattering.  More, the kind of creative disequilibrium that pushes us to ponder our own current thinking and consider changes in our thinking.  From this kind of experience – new thinking may develop.

And, if the person who shared their thinking with you is willing to listen to and probe your thinking – and go through the same reflective process – then each of you may benefit from new emergent thinking.

As you face the challenges of today and the future – intentionally thinking with others who think differently from you is a good thing.




Questions are bigger than answers


I believe that the issues we face today regarding the economy, educating our youth, reducing poverty, developing the good health of our citizens and many others issues are complex. I also worry that many of us are looking for simple answers to complex realities.

I think our abiltiy to stay engaged with tough questions and following them where they lead us, over time, will be important to us in bringing about needed and transformational change.

Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein he asks: “Are we too enthralled with answers these days?  Are we afraid of questions, especially those that linger too long?  We seem to have come to a phase of civilization marked by a voracious appetite for knowledge, in which the growth of information is exponential and, perhaps more important, its availability is easier and faster than ever.”

He goes on to state, “Questions are more relevant than answers. Questions are bigger than answers.  One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking.  Answers, on the other hand, often end the process.”

Both quotes are from page 11 of Ignorance: how It Drives Science.

The Value of Ignorance


Stuart Firestein, the author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science uses the word ignorance, at least in part, to be intentionally provocative.  But let’s take a moment to define the kind of ignorance that Firestein is referring to it, because ignorance as many bad connotations, especially in common usage, and he doesn’t mean any of those.  That “kind of ignorance is willful stupidity; worse than simple stupidity, it is a callow indifference to facts or logic.  It shows itself as a stubborn devotion two uninformed opinions, ignoring (same route) contrary ideas, opinions, or data.  The ignorant are unaware, unenlightened, uninformed, and surprisingly often occupy elected offices.  We can all agree that none of this is good.”*

Knowledge is built on facts. We know a lot because there is considerable knowledge out there for all of us to benefit from.  AND there is a lot we don’t know yet.  It may seem strange to suggest that NEW knowledge is often built on the edges of our ignorance.  Thinking deeply about our ignorance becomes a potentially productive endeavor.

Firestein makes the point that: “The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance.  You use those facts to frame a new question . . .  In other words, scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but also minuscule, but rather on what they’d don’t know.  The one big fact is that science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it.”**

Being the positive person I try to be, I have to admit that I find ignorance to be a powerful driving force.  I am the kind of person who wants to move forward and make a difference for the common good.  That means that to effectively serve the common good we have to be willing to go to the edge of our knowledge and explore the possible next steps for change.  That means we will not know if all our actions or even what we may focus on, related to forward movement, will prove to be fruitful for the common good.  Yet, being willing to move into the  edges of ignorance  is where potential lies.

*Page 6 of  ** Page 15 of Ignorance: How It Drives Success

Elegant thinkers and effective collaborators

Today, organizations absolutely need employees or members that contribute in ways  different from how they have done in the past.  Being honset and ‘showing up’ with a good attitude will not be enough for low-skilled or high skilled workers today.

Thomas Friedan and Michael Mandelbaum in their book That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind In The World It Invented And How We Can Come Back, (2011) write that today’s employers are “looking for workers who can think critically, who can tackle non-routine, complex tasks, and who can work collaboratively with teams located in their office or globally”.  They also expect the workers they hire to “think for themselves”.  They want people “that not only can do their assigned complex tasks but can enhance them, refine them, and even reinvent them by bringing something extra”. p 81

There are dramatic changes that have and are taking place in the world of work for Americans.  The global economy is a ‘game changer’ for many Americans.  Because our country has tended to have many good paying jobs for those willing to work – many of our citizens have come to believe that it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have more than a good attitude and be willing to show up to find and keep steady employment.

As an educator, it is clear to me that our we need our schools to intentionally teach and develop thinking and collaboration within our students at levels much higher than are the current norms.  The Habits of the Mind developed by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick are:


                  Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision  

                  Managing impulsivity

                  Gathering data through all senses

                  Listening with understanding and empathy

                  Creating, imagining, innovating

                  Thinking flexibly

                  Responding with wonderment and awe

                  Thinking about thinking (metacognition)

                  Taking responsible risks

                  Striving for accuracy

                  Finding humor

                  Questioning and posing problems

                  Thinking interdependently

                  Applying past knowledge to new situations

                  Remaining open to continuous learning

 The following is an excerpt from an article by Costa and Kallick.&nbsp

A “Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties–our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced through are more powerful, of higher quality and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors.

Employing “Habits of Mind” requires a composite of many skills, attitudes cues, past experiences and proclivities. It means that we value one pattern of thinking over another and therefore it implies choice making about which pattern should be employed at this time. It includes sensitivity to the contextual cues in a situation which signal this as an appropriate time and circumstance in which the employment of this pattern would be useful. It requires a level of skillfulness to employ and carry through the behaviors effectively over time. It suggests that as a result of each experience in which these behaviors were employed, the effects of their use are reflected upon, evaluated, modified and carried forth to future applications


                  Value: Choosing to employ a pattern of intellectual behaviors rather than other, less productive patterns.

                  Inclination: Feeling the tendency toward employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.

                  Sensitivity: Perceiving opportunities for, and appropriateness of employing the pattern of behavior.

                  Capability: Possessing the basic skills and capacities to carry through with the behaviors.

                  Commitment: Constantly striving to reflect on and improve performance of the pattern of intellectual behavior.

When students are confident and competent with strong habits of the mind they will meet and exceed the job expectations of employers today.  And for that to happen, schools will have to become much more committed to students becoming able and elegant thinkers and effective collaborators.