Smart Thinking by premier cognitive scientist Art Markman comes out today. Art talks to the Piatkus team about what it means to be a smart thinker, who he believes the top smart thinkers of the age are as well as his tips for improving the way you learn.
1. How would you sum up smart thinking?
Most of us have grown up believing that being smart was a talent. We’re either smart or we’re not. But being smart is a skill. You can work to improve your thinking skills. My formula for smart thinking involves developing smart habits inorder to acquire high quality knowledge that you can use when you need it. Being smart is about what you know. So, you have to develop habits to learn more effectively and then find ways to describe new situations so that you can pull out the knowledge you need at the right time.
2. Tell us about the research for the book. Did you notice anything peculiar during the course of your research?
I spent a lot of time distilling research from cognitive science to focus on the core of smart thinking. One of the really fascinating studies that had a big impact on my recommendations came from work by Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil. They found that people suffer from an illusion of explanatory depth. That is, there are a lot of things that we think we understand well, but we really don’t. To test this for yourself, walk around the house and find something (like your toilet) that you think you understand. Then, try to explain to yourself how it works. You’ll be surprised at the number of gaps in your knowledge. The problem with having these gaps is that real smart thinking requires a true understanding of the way the world works. If you have gaps in your knowledge that you are not aware of, then you are not going to be able to be as smart as you’d like to be.
3. Do you have any success stories you can share with us?
One great story that I talk about in the book is Fiona Fairhurst and her team at Speedo. They wanted to develop a swimsuit that would help swimmers go faster. The idea was to develop a fabric that would reduce the forces of drag that water exerts on a swimmer’s body. They had the smart idea to study sharks to understand why they are able to swim so fast. Looking at samples of shark skin in the Natural History Museum, they found that sharks have structures on their skin called denticles that help keep water from sticking to their skin. They created a fabric with artificial denticles. Once swimmers started to wear these suits, world records began to tumble.
4. Who do you think are the top smart thinkers of the age and why?
We are living in an era of smart thinking. We tend to focus on celebrities and luminaries from the business world who have had successful careers but so much about success depends on factors that are outside of any single person’s control. There are lots of great thinkers behind the scenes. In cognitive science, for example, Danny Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in economics for decades of work that he did with Amos Tversky that really tried to understand the ways that people make decisions. In the business world, Craig B. Wynett from Procter & Gamble has spent several years immersing himself in an understanding of the way the mind works in order to transform the way that one of the world’s largest consumer products companies approaches the development and marketing of new products.
5. What is the most common mistake that people often make that prevents them from achieving their potential?
Without a doubt, the biggest mistake people make is multitasking. The modern world makes it easy for people to multitask. We have smart phones, email, instant messaging and other technologies that are constantly drawing us away from our focus on the here and now. Really learning about the way the world works requires effort. That effort is sapped when we try to do many things at once. The problem is that the human mind doesn’t really multitask. Instead, it switches among tasks. Instead of multitasking, it is important to create time and space for good learning and smart thinking.
6. Is there one little change we can all make today that will help us to think smarter?
The beauty of learning about the way the mind works is that there a lot of simple things you can change that will help to make you smarter right away. One simple thing you can do is to keep in mind that you often remember about three things related to any experience, book, article, lecture or meeting. At the end of any experience like this, don’t leave your memory up to chance. Instead, take a minute before you move on to the next thing to list the three key points that you want to remember later.
7. What are your five tips for creating a ‘culture of smart’ at work and at home?
Another great thing about learning how the mind works is that you can help to make the people around you smarter, too. Here are a few tips you can use to create a 'culture of smart':
(1) When people present information to you, make sure you ask them to explain their reasoning. Not only does this help you to learn about the way the world works, it forces them to find the gaps in their knowledge.
(2) Discourage people around you from multitasking.
(3) When you give a presentation, end it with a summary of the three key points that you want people to remember.
(4) While you’re at it, keep your presentations focused on roughly three things. If you present too much information, nobody will remember it later.
And (5) be open to new ideas. Any really new idea is going to feel uncomfortable at first. If you show openness to ideas, the people around you will be open as well.
To find our more about Art's work or read one of his thought-provoking blogs, visit www.smartthinkingbook.com.
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