Understanding Deeply

It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you do know that ain’t so.
Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Someone Else

Understanding deeply is the first of the 5 Elements of Effective Thinking written by Drs Burger and Starbird..  Here is a tip offered  to provoke effective thinking.  Ask what do you know and test yourself by opening a blank document on a computer.  Then without referring to any sources, write a detailed understanding of the fundamentals of the subject.  Does your knowledge have gaps?  Do you struggle to think of core examples?  Do you fail to see the overall picture that puts the pieces together?  Then compare your effort to external sources.  When you discover weakness of your own understanding of the basics, take action.  Methodically understand the fundamentals.  Make these new insights part of your knowledge and connect them to parts already understood.  Revise and rewrite your first draft.   Periodically repeat this exercise and see how this document grows.  Keep a record of your previous documents.

If the challenge is too great, then don’t do it.  George Polya wrote, “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve:  find it.  When faced with a difficult problem, do something else.  Focus entirely on a subproblem you know you can successfully resolve.  Be confident that the work you invest on the subproblem will later be the guide that allows you to navigate through the complexities  of the larger issue.  Just shoot for the moon, don’t yet try to walk on it.

Here are two steps to uncovering the essence:
Step One:  Identify and ignore all distracting features to isolate the essential core.
Step Two:  Analyze the central issue and apply those insights to the larger whole.

Review your writing , try to read what you have literally written—not what you intended to communicate.  Read your actual words and pretend you don’t know the argument you are making.  Try to identify what’s confusing and what’s missing.  If you think you know the idea but haven’t expressed it clearly, then this process has identified a gap or vagueness in your understanding.  After we admit and address these weaknesses, our exposition will be clearer and more directed to the actual audience.  When delivering an address or making a presentation, apply the same process of deliberately listening to the actual words we are speaking rather than what we are imagining we are saying.  This can be extremely difficult to do, so a review by external parties, particularly reviews by representative of the target audience can be especially valuable.

Becoming aware of the basis of our opinions and beliefs is an important step toward a better understanding of ourselves and our world.   It is a good idea to try out alternative ideas hypothetically and temporarily.  We can pretend our opinions are the opposite of what we actually believe, and then see where these opinions take us.

Niels Bohr used this technique while trying to lead a group of scientists to understand quantum mechanics.

What is reviewed here is just a sample.  Reading the original work is strongly recommended.


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