The five types of thinking we use
The human brain has evolved over many millions of years. Our brain cells, neurotransmitters, synapses, and processes are not much different from other animals. However through evolution the brain has developed into a number of different functioning areas all playing vital roles in the management and regulation of our senses, organs, and other body parts. This architecture allows us to think in an array of different manners. As we have evolved as a species our brain has also developed allowing thinking in more sophisticated ways. In addition as we personally develop during our life we learn to utilize these various ways of thinking to make meaning, solve problems, and develop ideas.
Basically we utilize five different ways of thinking which are briefly summarized below.
1. Emotional based decision making
Our predecessors the Hominids millions of years ago had brains that were only one third the size of human brains today, relied upon emotions to guide their thinking. This was very important in their role as hunter/gatherers. The basic emotions (particularly the unpleasant ones) also generate physiological responses such as needed in the fight/flight mode when we came in proximity of a threatening animal. The brain would release adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream to enable faster thinking and actions. The brain would drastically increase its activity. The body would freeze with all senses focused on the perceived threat. The heart would beat faster, ready for a quick getaway. Blood is diverted from the skin to the limbs to enable quick and powerful movement. Blood pressure rises and respiration increases. The muscles are tensed and sweating increases to cool the body. Appetite is suppressed and the bowels relaxed so that a person will be lighter for a getaway. These emotions are involuntary and often experienced without recourse to our consciousness or intervening thought processes.
Today, most lower level human thinking is based upon our emotions which originate from our limbic system at the base of the brain. Many of these emotional responses are hardwired into our thinking system and concerned with our primal needs and survival, as well as mateship. We answer specific situations based upon the emotions embedded within out mental schema and upon subsequent appraisal of the situation determine the intensity we will respond to the situation with our emotions. Learned ‘core related themes’ are believed to influence this automatic appraisal process. Therefore higher order emotions are social constructs. To be angry, disgusted, humiliated and proud are moral positions. These social emotional positions are coded into memory schemata and they become automatic responses. These socially related emotions will also have some relationship to the basic core emotions. Without our specific awareness of the play these emotions make upon our judgments, decision making will tend to be emotionally based. Sometimes this becomes difficult to determine as these basic emotions mix with other emotions to produce very complex social emotions. They become our responses to meaning, which we confuse for meaning itself.
Most of us are locked into emotional thinking biases due to the influence the limbic system has over the rest of the brain. We cannot and maybe should not eliminate emotions, but should be at least aware of them.
2. Analysis and rationalization of knowledge
We live in a rational society where the world is run by time, logic, reason, and “objectivity”. Everything is measured and designated within the spirit of Weber’s rational bureaucracy and Frederick Taylor’s scientific management. Our education system is based upon rationalism, promoting specialized disciplines and critical thinking. Therefore people tend to approach problems through the paradigm of reason and rationality. Facts are required before “informed decisions” are made. Facts and knowledge are paramount prerequisites to decision making. Within the rational society, ethics are the based on codified laws and religious dogma with penalties attached to certain types of behaviours as a deterrent. Therefore in the rational society one acts out of fear and “logic” within a heavily socialized and cultural framework. Thus all solutions are “culturally based” solutions.
Rationalist tools like mathematics and geometry have great difficulty in explaining everyday occurrences like the operation of a steam value, a tennis game, riding a bicycle, and catching a ball as there is the element of chaos (not to be confused with crisis) and unpredictability in any phenomenon. One can develop complex wave equations but never really know exactly what is going to happen. Reductionism relies upon linear perfectionism which doesn’t exist. Even the earth’s rotation is not exact. Our perfectionist time systems must be regularly adjusted to account for nature’s imperfection. We try to think about the world in a linear way where the world really behaves in non-linear ways. Most events need to unfold along particular paths, something that cannot be controlled. Evolution is an unplanned process.
Many massive engineering developments like the building of the Hoover Dam, the development of the atomic bomb, and the space program were not based on science as much as they have been based upon engineering reductionism, requiring the rationalization of knowledge. Potential new breakthroughs in specific domains are often resisted by discipline centered experts committed to established reductionist views based on the models they work from. Some discipline premises were totally incorrect. For example, economics preached individualism and decentralized markets, yet our security and prosperity has been largely the result of collective action to eradicate disease, promote science, develop critical infrastructure and, provide widespread education. The tools of trade are usually too selective to allow the big picture to be seen, becoming the ‘rose colored glasses’ of perceptual and discipline-centric domain imprisonment.
3. Higher intuition (with biases)
To handle the enormous amounts of incoming information and perform the decisions that have to be made requires some form of mechanisms that can ‘short-cut’ the interpretive and decision processes. Heuristics and biases are a means to achieving this and as a consequence have an influence on our perception and reasoning. Heuristics assist decision making under uncertainty because of insufficient information from the environment. Heuristics and other biases compensate and thus assist people in solving problems, developing new ideas, and seeing potential opportunities that others don’t. They also influence how we look at ethical problems ethics and how we develop strategies.
Heuristics are ‘short-cuts’, ‘rules of thumb’, decision rules or templates that aid quick judgments and decisions. Heuristics become embedded within our belief system. They can also be influenced by our deep motivations and reflect our social conditioning. Heuristics and other biases become intertwined within our knowledge structures and become a factor of influence in the assessments, judgments and decisions we make involving opportunity evaluation. These basic assumptions include views about time, space, human nature, the nature of relationships, and what is the truth. They are part of the decision making process. In effect heuristics are our programmed system of ‘common sense’.
Heuristics have the potential to assist the decision making process by cutting down on the person’s information load. They allow a person to make quick decisions about problems and opportunities without undertaking formal analysis which would tend to highlight problems, thus preventing its exploitation. Heuristics are important when windows of opportunity are very short. They also help in making quick strategy choices, saving time and adding to flexibility. Heuristics make up for lack of experience and drive intuition, which is independent of inputs from the cognitive perception process. This will trigger off the creativity process by imposing an alternative reality to what is perceived through the senses.
The downside of heuristics is that it allows our biases to interpret what is going on in the world around us. Heuristics create stereotyping and tend to suppress the ability to comprehend new meanings through the application of cognitive biases that maintain our current perceived ideas about the world. Of course our beliefs formed through rationalism make up many, if not most of our cognitive biases we use in life.
4. Creative insights
Creativity and in particular creative insights are an extremely important aspect of our thinking styles. Without creativity, very little would develop, function and contribute to the wellbeing of the humanity. The concept of creativity is elusive, cannot be observed directly, measured or even acknowledged until sometime after the creative act has taken place. Relatively little research has been undertaken on creativity until the 1960s. However within the last three decades there has been a massive serge in research, new theories and the development of many creative tools.
When a sub-conscious connection between two bits of information fit a problem, a realization that brings a feeling of insight occurs. This illumination is often described as the ‘aha’ or the ‘eureka’ moment. This insight may not bring the whole solution of the problem but perhaps provide a key piece of information that enables the problem to be restructured, reorganized, reframed, reconstructed or reconsidered in some now light, where a solution comes forward with relative ease. In hindsight the solution will normally be a simplistic and logical one, ironic given the difficulty in arriving at the insight. A simple block or misplaced assumption that was removed during the incubation and sub-conscious contemplation process made way for the insight to occur. Accepted prior knowledge of a domain and field can sometimes block an insight, especially where knowledge is accepted as a given and not previously questioned.
Insight is the example of a product produced through our brain’s self organizing system which begins to associate external information from the environment, our domain and field knowledge and our prior experience held in the long term memory. This may operate in a similar manner to the way we combine words into phrases, phrases into sentences and sentences into ideas and stories to create meaning. Imagination may also play some role in creating vision and imagery and assisting in drawing analogies during this process. The insight is the product of the connection between these bits of information in some sort of semantic, conceptual or visual form, which assists the advancement of the problem solving process. Any meaningful connection of ideas will immediately flash into our conscious memory as an insight previously not considered in regards to the problem.
Recent research has shown when individuals are left undisturbed the brain is not idle, where there is actually increased activity, localized in the pre-frontal cortex. The brain during any resting period is actually quite vigorous, where without any stimulation the mind freely wanders through past recollections, envisioning future plans, and other thoughts and experiences. This phenomenon was termed the ‘default network’ to describe the brain activity at rest. The significance of the ‘default network’ to the creative insight is that continued underlying processes still occur that are unrelated to conscious thought occur, something described in the incubation process mode of the creativity process. Research has shown that mindfulness can activate the ‘default network’. The ‘default network’ deactivates is active when an individual is at rest and shuts down when an individual becomes active and is focused on the outside world.
Most decisions that lead us on emergent paths like the vocation of entrepreneurship, art, music, opera, and even sport require creative decision making. Thus creativity rather than general intelligence is the means by which the majority of people get things done. Fortunately creativity can be taught and enlightened education systems today have switched the balance from critical to creative thinking as the major thinking skill to develop. Creative insight is the major means by which we make the decisions that lead to our emergence in life, vocation, and career.
At the top of the thinking hierarchy is wisdom, a thinking process that is only achieved by a small percentage of the population after many years of experiencing life (see figure 2.). A person’s awareness or mindfulness transcends the lower emotional influenced thinking, social interpretations, to a level where one thinks about issues and can develop new personal understandings. This comes from our emotional sensitivity which runs across a continuum from mindlessness to mindfulness. Mindlessness numbs individuals’ senses to the outside environment and patterns them into seeing situations as absolutes. Whereas mindfulness is a state of psychological freedom without any attachment to any point of view and being attentive to what is occurring at present. Many peoples’ emotional sensitivity is inhibited by their past categorizations, rules and routines that cloud the ability to view any current situation with novel distinctions. Therefore the more mindful a person is, the more open to the environment they will be.
Mindfulness allows a person access to environmental perceptions without schema blocking or altering the interpretation of events. The more mindfulness, the better the perception of opportunities, however other facets such as prior knowledge are still vitally important, which without any individual will not be able to perceive opportunity for new ventures, products, and services. Langer proposed that mindfulness may enhance the ability to perceive and shape new opportunities through five components that have been empirically tested;
· Openness to novelty – the ability to reason with relatively novel forms of stimuli,
· Alertness to distinction – the ability to distinguish minute differences in the details of an object, action, or environment,
· Sensitivity to different contexts- tasks and abilities will differ according to the situational context,
· Awareness of multiple perspectives – the ability to think dialectically, and
· Orientation in the present- paying attention to here and now.
Thus through wisdom one can foresee and truly understand the potential consequences of taking potential courses of action, seeing above and beyond the influence of emotions, and solutions based on rationalizations that may miss out on certain sets of consequences.
One would assume that the degree of mindfulness an individual possesses will also influence the depth of meaning that can be derived from the environment. New discoveries may occur because of emotional sensitivity and mindfulness described above in what could be called a ‘passive search’, where an individual is receptive but not engaged in any formal systematic search.
Thich Nhat Hanh stated that every feeling whether good or bad, powerful or light should be paid attention to with mindfulness that can be used as a force to protect the psych. This has two important implications. The first is to be aware of our own biases and distortive tendencies in our perception of objects. The second implication is that we protect ourselves from harmful influences and ‘emotionally’ learn. Psychotherapy advocates a healthy ego which requires some ‘healthy attachment’ like identification in the creation of a sense of self. Das expands on identity as being something we experience spiritually, sexually, sensually, intellectually, economically, philosophically, and so on. Identity is situationally dependent upon the role one plays as a mother, father, worker, student, etc. However this can lead to an ego produced out of mistaken identity, based on anxiety and confusion about ‘who I am’.
John Bowlby’s seminal work on attachment theory (our emotional dependence upon people, objects and events) defines attachment as one of the prime motivational systems with its own workings and interfaces with other motivational systems. What may be important is understanding desire as a driver of motivation. Thus some emotional attachment is considered to be a healthy part of a person’s psychological make-up, a driver for action. However it should be noted that the motivation behind our actions is usually desire, which unchecked can develop into many abnormal pathologies like depression, anxiety, aggression, etc. It is not the desire that causes the suffering, but what we do with our desire. People need to feel secure and have loving relationships to provide a base for life exploration, which requires some attachment. Michael Porter also recognized that emotional attachment can influence rationality of strategic decision making where one may be committed to a business, have a sense of pride, be concerned about the stigma attached to a decision, identify with the program or venture, etc.
Thinking is too often equated with intelligence, where there is no agreed definition but an understanding that it involves; abstract thinking, reasoning, problem solving ability, capacity to acquire knowledge, memory, and adoption. However intelligence does not equate with general success in life. There are so many examples of dropouts becoming entrepreneurs and having very successful careers.
Perhaps the key is wisdom in making decisions based on experience, how we process information, problem solving skills we utilize, and personal competencies we posses rather than intelligence. People must be able to pass through their emotions, collect what information they can and think about the issues rather than act on social interpretations. The ability to acquire new methods of thinking appears to be related to our personal development as figure 2 shows. Our basic emotions of like, dislike, happy, sad, extrovert, introvert, and depressed, etc., influence our decision making from infancy well into our adolescence. As we reach early adulthood we learn to interpret social situations in our decision making. Our schooling teaches us how to collect information and process this rationally and logically in solving problems and making decisions. We also become able to utilize existing knowledge as a means of creating new knowledge through the means of creativity. Finally a small proportion of the population is able to develop a sense of wisdom based on experience and the ability to see over their biases.
Figure 2. The continuum of wisdom.
Published in Orbus July 2012
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Notes and References
 What is interesting is that Charles Darwin (1872) postulated that emotional expressions are not cultural and part of our global genetic makeup.
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 Most models only utilize a couple of variables to examine cause and effect. For example Weber’s models were concerned with power, Lakoff’s models were concerned with the social generation of truth, and Porter’s models with external structural forces, where on the other hand Mintzberg ignores the role of structural constraints upon management. These models correlated with certain actions or behaviors in retrospect, but could not predict accurately in future scenarios.
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 This is one area where entrepreneurial thinking may be very different from management thinking. An entrepreneur without perfect information will act on intuition and hunch. Any analysis will be mental rather than through the formal processes which managers in a company situation will tend to follow. Management analysis of new ideas will tend to frame the question; what is wrong with this idea?, why should it not be exploited?, what will be the potential problems?, etc. Thus analysis can become a very negative paradigm in management preventing new ideas emerging into new strategies.
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 Alvarez, S. A, and Busenitz, L. W, (2001). “The Entrepreneurship of resource based theory”.
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 For example a painting or piece of art may not be recognized by the art community as being creative until many years after it has been created. This leads to the situation where many pieces of art only accumulate value after the artist has passed away and the act of creativity is only realized as such long after the event.
 Sternberg, R. J. and Lubart, T. I. (1996). Investing in Creativity, American Psychologist, Vol. 51, No. 7, pp. 677 688.
 Robertson-Riegler, G., and Robertson-Riegler, B. (2008). Cognitive Psychology: Applying the Science of the Mind, 2nd Edition, Boston, Pearson Education, Inc., pp. 472-3
 Imagination plays a number of roles within our thinking processes. The eight types of imagination that we may use include; 1. “Effectuative Imagination which combines information together to synergize new concepts and ideas.”, 2. “Intellectual (or Constructive) Imagination which is utilized when considering and developing hypotheses from different pieces of information or pondering over various issues of meaning say in the areas of philosophy, management, or politics, etc.”,
3. “Imaginative Fantasy Imagination which creates and develops stories, pictures, poems, stage-plays, and the building of the esoteric, etc.”,
4. “Empathy Imagination which helps a person know emotionally what others are experiencing from their frame and reference.”,
5. “Strategic Imagination which is concerned about vision of ‘what could be’, the ability to recognize and evaluate opportunities by turning them into mental scenarios…”,
6. “Emotional Imagination which is concerned with manifesting emotional dispositions and extending them into emotional scenarios.”, 7. “
Dreams which are an unconscious form of imagination made up of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur during certain stages of sleep.”, and
8. “Memory Reconstruction which is the process of retrieving our memory of people, objects, and events.” See: Hunter, M., (2012), Imagination may be more important than knowlwdge: The eight types of imagination we use, Orbus, http://www.orbus.be/info/important_news_april_extra_004.htm.
 There are also a number of creative tools that can enhance the ability to do this.
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 Mindfulness is a state of open acceptance of one’s own perceptions and sensibilities that helps our experience of being calm, relaxed and alert state of mind and be aware of our thoughts without identifying with them Ladner, L. (2005). Bringing Mindfulness to Your Practice, Psychology Networker, July/August, P. 19.
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