I’ve been way to busy this week to blog about my programming exploits, so I thought I’d talk a bit about a book I read called Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.
I’ve read this book a few times already, partly because its quite interesting, and partly because it said “Reading is one of the worst ways to learn” So I figured reading it a few times might help me.
The first and probably most important tip this book gives is “Always consider the context” Things don’t occur in a vacuum, people don’t behave independently, there is always an additional why or external factors that affect everything. Take people, for example. Most people are pretty decent, but under stressful conditions almost anyone can turn into a cursing,sarcastic,snide jerk. Understanding that is the secret to not getting pissed off by everyone.
The book places a high value on intuition, it states that our brain consists of a L-mode and a R-mode (This doesn’t refer to left and right)
L-mode is logical, linear,analytical etc
R-mode is intuitive, holistic, non-linear and even non-rational
Since this book is written from the viewpoint of a programmer, the writer is looking to get in touch with his R-mode, He states that the L-mode is the “Little voice in your head” that chatters nonstop in your head. whereas the R-mode is non-verbal signs, like images. Only one of these modes can dominate the mind at once, so the author suggests letting the R-mode flow first (synthesize) , and then analyze your creation with L-mode.
He also defines the skills progression from Novice to Expert. A novice has no knowledge of context and has to follow rules, an Expert can see the Big Picture and also has an intuitive feel for things. I think this is why he emphasizes the R-mode so much, its a necessary part of being an Expert.
R-mode can’t be forced, it can only be invited out, even then the flow of ideas/images/thoughts can’t really be controlled. You can’t predict when/where or how ideas will appear, so the author recommends writing down any ideas in a notebook. Another way to harvest R-mode ideas is to write things down.
Some of the advice/exercises are really interesting, in one exercise the book gives you a picture that is upside down. And without thinking of the picture, try to redraw it but just thinking of the picture as individual lines. For example, if it was a picture of an elephant, don’t think of it as an elephant, just think of it as a bunch of lines joined together. (That is why turning the picture upside down helps)
I tried this exercise, and after I got the hang of it, the result was for me above average (meaning that it was just very bad instead of absolutely terrible). I think what this exercise does is “quieten your L-mode voice”. If you knew it was an elephant, your L-voice would be all “Its an elephant! It looks like this!!!!”
The above drawing technically sorta kinda looks like an elephant, but still….I’m ashamed of myself.
But when you ignore the fact that its an elephant and just focus on the lines, your L-mode voice quiets down and you can focus on just drawing the best damn elephant you can draw.
There are still plenty of great tips and tricks in this book, too many to list here, so i suggest you get the book, and read at least twice.