Monday, April 30, 2012

Hand-in-Hand, Up and Down, Back and Forth For Best Problem Solving Results

 I'm hooked on The Agile Mind by cognitive neuroscientist Wilma Koutstaal Ph.D. and am planning to drop quick pieces of information, quotes, useful techniques, and interesting research findings from her book about thinking on the next several Mondays.

 Koutstaal tells us that highly effective problem solvers know how to move flexibly from intuitive to rational and back again and from specific to abstract thinking — and back again — regardless of what type of problem needs solving. Intuitive problem-solving, a preferred mode of thinking for a majority of women, has been soundly validated as equal to, but different than rational problem-solving (preferred by a majority of men) in producing creative solutions to problems. But using both is best; all the time.

 Intuitive thinking is an unconscious process and therefore difficult to describe or explain, even for the person who comes up with the great aha solution. Rational problem solving is conscious and easily learned, taught, and described, so for years it seemed more real, serious, and academic. Intuitive women can probably learn rational problem-solving more easily than rational men can learn intuitive thinking, just because of the less explicable process but still, learning to do the mental gymnastics that agility of problem-solving requires seems almost impossible.

I know that some of you out there already know how and have a preference that includes both styles of problem-solving.  Please comment with a story, a success experience, or a tip on how to do what Koutstaall suggests — move flexibly between levels of control (automatic and intentional) and levels of representation (abstract and concrete.) I'm still in the novice stage, working on upping my intuitive thinking. So far it's still random for me!
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