24 professional thinking tools to help solve any problem

Scott Young

Writer, author of the book “Superlearning. A system for mastering any skill, from learning languages to building a career.”

Many people think that being smart means keeping more facts in your memory. Intellectual shows only reinforce this opinion. The smartest is the one who remembers the most names, dates and places.

In my opinion, remembering facts is the most useless part of learning. I would prefer to gain knowledge that can be used in practice as tools. The more of them, the more ways you have to solve a variety of problems .

What are professional thinking tools

Most of us define different professions by the tasks we perform. Engineers create mechanisms. Economists study money. Psychologists look deep into human consciousness.

However, I am much more interested not in what problems people of different professions are trying to solve, but in how they do it. These are the tools of thinking , and for each type of activity they have their own.

Why use them

Once scientists conducted a simple experiment . Its participants had to figure out how to light a candle and attach it to the wall so as not to stain the floor with wax. For this, it was proposed to use a candle, matches and a box with buttons. The solution to the problem was to use the box as a separate item. However, most saw it as just a container, and not just another tool.

In the same way, professional thinking tools allow you to solve problems in unfamiliar ways that you might never have thought of. For example, build a business from the point of view of an artist or write texts using economic methods. Not all combinations will be effective, but they will definitely help you find new approaches.

What professional thinking tools to use

1. Artistic

In most professions, ideas go through a very rigorous screening process. They must monetize well, be mathematically accurate, stay within budget, or meet certain standards. Artists think differently and ask themselves one important question: “Why is the idea unique and interesting?”

This is a very useful approach that can be applied in different situations. Well-known companies often produce products that resemble a work of art. They are driven by the desire for uniqueness and creativity, and not just the desire to improve technical performance.

How will your work change if innovation becomes your priority? What will be your goals and projects if you evaluate them by their coolness and unusual design? The answers will help you look at your lesson from a different angle.

2. Economic

There are many complex tools of thought in economics, but the fundamental one is simple: people respond to incentives.

Economist Tyler Cowen has explained this principle best. When the system in which people are involved changes, they do not remain indifferent, but respond accordingly to new incentives.

This means that almost every action you take causes a certain reaction in those with whom you are dealing. So the economist inside you should be asking yourself, “How will people react if I change something?”

3. Engineering

Engineering, based on the exact sciences, differs from other professions in the most accurate and verified system of measurements. Engineers create things every day that did n’t exist before and that should work 100% of the time.

The essence of an engineering strategy is to come up with a design model, measure significant variables, and determine the degree of error that can be expected in the calculations. This helps to predict what will actually happen to the project, rather than just guessing.

Recently, my team and I applied this approach to a sales-related problem. We created a model based on how long people have been following us and how often the site offers to follow us. This allowed us to determine the real income much more accurately.

4. Entrepreneurial

Beginning businessmen usually have little money, resources, support and time. They are constantly looking for solutions that will bring profit, and therefore use a variety of thinking tools. One of them is rapid prototyping. It allows you to create minimally working samples of a product in order to figure out how much it will be in demand.

In everyday life, this method will also be useful. If you have a problem, take action now and try different options instead of waiting for the perfect solution to come to mind. Do not forget about feedback: it will let you know if you are moving in the right direction or not and what to do next.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is to do your best and see what works.

5. Medical

Physicians see patients every day who suffer from a range of symptoms, and some of them may be hushed up. Therefore, sometimes doctors have to become real detectives in order to correctly identify the disease and prescribe treatment. One wrong step can harm the patient, which means you need to be extremely accurate.

Diagnosing by symptoms is the main thinking tool of the medical profession, but correct diagnosis is important not only in medicine. Let’s say your car starts making strange noises, your smartphone won’t charge , or your business has stopped making money. First of all, you need to find all possible causes, and then weed out those that do not correspond to the “symptoms” that you observe. This will help to make the correct “diagnosis” and solve the problem.

6. Journalistic

Journalists use several thinking tools at once to help them write interesting and credible stories. Among them is fact checking. Very often, reporters receive information from people who may lie or keep back, so they try to confirm the facts in other, independent sources. It takes time, but the final result is more complete and accurate.

Think about how your life would change if you double-checked the accuracy of the information on which you make decisions . Imagine that you have to write an article about it in The New York Times. Wouldn’t it be necessary to give a refutation later?

7. Scientific

Scientists discover the truth about the world around us, and their basic tool of thinking is a controlled experiment. Researchers leave all the variables in place, changing only the one they want to study, and see what happens. This requires careful preparation so that no external factors affect the result.

Many of us conduct our own experiments. However, very often we use completely incompatible variables, which means we get wrong conclusions. What if you, as a scientist, approached the preparation of the menu for the week or the performance of the workouts? Which of your habits will pass this test? Try to apply the scientific method in life – the results will surprise you for sure.

8. Math

The thinking tools of a mathematician rely on high standards of evidence. If an engineer can allow a certain error in calculations, and a businessman can trust his instincts, then the statements of a mathematician must be irrefutable, otherwise they have no meaning.

How this works can be clearly seen in related fields, such as programming. When I studied computer science, lecturers used to compare two styles of programming: MIT and Bell Labs. At MIT, they took a more academic and mathematical approach, placing very high demands on the proof that the code worked. And at Bell Labs, they were satisfied with algorithms that should work in theory, even if they couldn’t guarantee it.

The use of rigorous mathematical methods helps to increase the accuracy of work and instantly notice errors .

9. Programming

Programming involves many tools of thinking, and the basic one among them is the algorithm. It is a set of steps that can be clearly described so that they do not require additional effort to implement, and the result is a useful product.

Analyze your activities and identify what can be automated, simplified, or reorganized. Programmers notice repetitive code, try to find the main components and automate processes. What actions do you often repeat? How can you organize your life so that they no longer require your participation? Think like a programmer .

10. Architectural

Architects design buildings. Construction sometimes takes years, and the structures must meet all the requirements of customers and contractors, as well as urban development plans and strict technical standards. And yet the objects being built must be beautiful.

One of the methods that architects use in their work is the creation of models and layouts. Try to do the same. Come up with a small copy of your project, and then imagine what it would look like on a larger scale in real life. This will help identify gaps and make changes before it’s too late.

11. Selling

Sales managers often have a bad reputation. People think they are manipulating customers by tricking and tricking them into buying what no one wants.

In fact, such representatives of the profession are very rare. The best sellers in their field try to understand the desires of the client and choose the right product or service for him. This is quite difficult, because you need to figure out what the other person needs before he does it himself.

This requires a special tool of thinking – the ability to draw conclusions about what worries people and what they need, according to their behavior, often contradictory. What body language is the client using? How do his actions relate to his intentions? What does this tell you?

Try to analyze your environment with questions like these. What desires does your loved one keep silent about? Your friend? Boss?

12. Chess

Chess is considered a game that develops thinking. Of course, it is not at all a fact that regular games will actually make you smarter. However, this game is full of useful thinking tools.

For example, the ability to build a game in your mind and think several moves ahead. Many chess players even play blindfolded. This not only reinforces the interest of the audience, but also helps the grandmasters mentally imagine the combinations on the board and calculate the opponent’s moves.

This method can be used in everyday life: regularly make assumptions about what will happen next, and then compare your guesses with reality. This little exercise will help develop analytical skills . And the next time you encounter a problem, you will see several possible outcomes at once and choose the most effective course of action.

Take note 🤓

13. Designer

One of my favorite books is The Design of Everyday Things . It is intended for professionals, but it is really a book about the mindset that designers need to develop. Therefore, it will be useful even to those who have never done anything with their own hands.

Here we can single out the following tool of thinking: the way an object is made suggests how to use it. For example, if the door handle is well designed, you will intuitively understand whether to push the door or pull it towards you.

What if you were to formulate your point of view in such a way that those around you would automatically change their train of thought? Or if you were to implement habits into your life in such a way that they were performed effortlessly? Analyzing situations and problems from a designer’s point of view will help you expand your perspective and find new solutions.

14. Teaching

How to fill the head of another person with knowledge? How to teach him new skills? Many of us underestimate the work of teachers . But in order to do their job, it is important for them not only to understand how students represent the world, but also to determine how this representation can be changed.

Sometimes success requires others to see the problem the way you do. And here it is very important to determine what knowledge they lack for this, and to clearly explain the situation to them. For teachers, this is an obvious skill. It will also be useful for programmers who are trying to clarify their code. And doctors who tell why patients need a certain procedure. And managers who want employees to clearly understand in which direction the company should move.

15. Anthropological

Anthropology studies different cultures. Unlike economists who use mathematical models or psychologists who conduct experiments, anthropologists are actually immersed in an unfamiliar cultural environment.

How could you be part of a community that you don’t currently belong to? For example, groups of people of a different nationality or speakers of a different language? Supporters of other views or keen on another hobby? How can you understand how these groups are organized and whether they accept you living next to them?

16. Psychological

In psychology, a wide range of thinking tools are used. Some are included in assumptions about human nature, others are methods of its study. Cognitive distortions, patterns of attention, morality, instincts, preferences, memory – dozens of books could be written about how to think about other people with all these tools, and they are written .

Interestingly, psychology as a science studies itself. To do this, psychologists conduct their experiments. In fact, they are similar to scientific ones: a variable that they want to investigate is added to the immutable conditions. Only people become the object of research, which means that you most often cannot tell them what exactly you are trying to study.

Understand 🤔

17. Critical

Critics not only advise which films to watch and which books to read. They analyze the works, offer their interpretation and invite others to the discussion.

They can take on several tools at once. Firstly, the ability to perceive information deeper, to see not only what is on the surface. Secondly, the ability to connect what is seen with the complex interweaving of other ideas and problems. This will allow you to create truly original things .

18. Philosophical

Philosophers, at least in the analytic direction, often use the same tools of thought as mathematicians. With one exception: philosophy studies questions in which there is no unambiguity and precision. Therefore, its tools are especially interesting for working with concepts that cannot be reduced to numbers.

For example, pushing an idea to its limits to see unexpected consequences. This method has two advantages: it helps you spot flaws in the original idea and reveals the fundamental principles on which intuitions are built. By testing your ideas in absurd hypothetical situations, you can understand how they actually work.

Find out more 👳‍♂️

19. Accounting

Money is the backbone of business. Accounting’s job is to keep track of how they are used.

One of the most effective accounting thinking tools is ratio analysis. Coefficients are fractions, the numerator and denominator of which contain certain indicators. For example, the ratio of borrowed and own funds of the enterprise. The higher this ratio, the greater the risk of default for the company.

This analysis is used in other areas as well. For example, in medicine there is the concept of body mass index – the ratio of a person’s height and weight. You can use the same approach in everyday life: calculate the ratio of the number of dates to the hours you spend on dating sites, or the number of tasks that you have time to complete to the time spent at work.

20. Political

Politics is quite a complex area: you can do your job perfectly and still lose it due to bad PR or insufficient voter support. Therefore, the tools of thinking are used here, which make it possible to determine not only the consequences of certain actions, but also their perception in society.

This approach teaches us one simple lesson: sometimes making the right decision is impossible because other people will not agree with it, and you will not be able to convince them. It’s sad, but that’s the truth of life.

21. Writing

Writers clearly understand the difference between a story told and real life. The heroes of the works have unshakable character traits that make their behavior predictable. In addition, a certain structure of presentation is always maintained in the literature. Reality is a much more chaotic flow of events.

We all have to tell stories sometimes. For example, when they ask at an interview why we want to work in a company or where we see ourselves in five years. The next time this happens, try imagining that you are a writer. Give people information about who the characters in your story are and when the events happened, and stick to a structure that makes your story easier to follow.

22. Acting

A popular principle in acting is that in order to play a role, you need to feel the emotions of your character, and not just pretend. This requires imagination. Actors have to remember difficult situations from their own past, in which they felt just like their characters.

This tool is more affective than cognitive: you change your emotional state depending on the result you want to get. For example, you are about to talk to your boss about a promotion and you need a boost of self-confidence. Turn on the inner actor, remember the right situation, feel this feeling inside yourself – and go ahead.

23. Plumbing

The profession of a plumber is based on intense manual labor. Like other working professions, these people often have to get their hands dirty in order to disassemble something and find the cause of the problem. And for this you need to understand how the equipment is arranged, otherwise there is a risk of ruining everything.

The same principle can be applied when it comes to other issues. Learn to take them apart and analyze how they work. And don’t be afraid to get dirty.

24. Hacker

Hacker skills are often underestimated. According to movies and TV shows, this is a bright virtual magic. In fact, the whole secret is in understanding the computer hierarchy and the structure of various systems. Hackers are able to find and exploit vulnerabilities at deep levels and do what was considered impossible.

This tool of thinking will come in handy in life as well. Remember that everything you see is only the top level, a simplification of a much deeper reality. Perhaps there are “bugs” one step down that can be useful to you and allow you to “hack” the system in an unexpected way.

Read also 🧐

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.