Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smart Thinking-3 Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate and Get Things Done

Courtesy of Marsha Miller

Jon-David sits down with Psychologist Art Markman this evening at 7:05P to discuss his new book.  USA Today did an earlier Q&A with him.  Check it out!

Psychologist Art Markman has studied thinking for 20 years. In his new book, Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done, he combines what's known from cognitive research with a how-to approach. Markman, of the University of Texas in Austin, tells USA TODAY what helps us and hinders us from making the most of what we know.

Q: Is your definition of "smart" different from what we consider overall intelligence? If so, how?
A: Smart and intelligent are related, but they really aren't the same. The kinds of problems we give people on intelligence tests typically focus on the ability to solve very abstract problems that don't resemble things you do on a daily basis. But when people are doing smart things in the world, they are solving problems. They are creating new things. They are saying things and thinking thoughts that have not been thought in that way before. Those are the kinds of things that are really smart behaviors.

Q: InSmart Thinking, you say creating smart habits that can become useful habits helps people become smarter. How does that work?
A: Most of what we do day-to-day we do without thinking. That's a good thing, because you don't want to spend your life planning every single movement and every single action. But the reason that this becomes central to smart thinking is because, as much as possible, you want to organize your life so that the things you do by habit are things that are going to promote smarter behavior.

Q: You also delve into how memory works.Why do people have so much trouble remembering names?
A: Memory is all about connection. Names are arbitrary. You often can't remember this person's name, but you remember where they work and that they have three kids. You remember all the stuff that was connected that made the person the person, but (not) this piece of information that's arbitrary but really important — their name. The funny thing is as soon as you start thinking about this person, all of this other information comes back. You remember what they like and this joke they told you -- just this one piece of it is hard to get at because it's not really connected to anything.

Q: You say multitasking is dangerous.
A: Multitasking is one of the evils of the modern world. We really don't do many things at once. What we do is split our time across all the different things we're trying to do. And there are two problems with that. One is there's a cost to switching back and forth between the things you're trying to do and the other is if you're participating in some kind of event that's unfolding in time, you're going to miss things when you switch your attention away from that event. If you're sitting in a meeting and checking your e-mail at the same time, you're not really doing both at same time, you're doing a little bit of e-mail and a little bit of meeting. Anything that happens at the meeting while you're working on the e-mail, you've just missed.

Q: What are the habits you call "self-limiting"?
A: We go to meetings and we're supposed to learn something from the meeting, and now, as soon as we leave the meeting, we whip out a smartphone and start checking our messages and see what texts came in. The problem is that this habit of checking your smartphone is leaving what you remember about that meeting up to chance.One of the things that's very effective in learning is spending a little bit of time at the very end of the experience reviewing what just happened and saying to yourself what are the three most important things that just happened here. By moving too quickly on to the next thing, you're not giving yourself a chance to make sure you figure out what it is you want to remember.

Q: How can we fight the downsides of multitasking?
A: Rather than multitask, I think we need to prioritize. I'm not saying at the end of a meeting or an event to spend the next hour pondering what just happened. But if you took 90 seconds and reviewed the meeting before you moved on to the next thing, you would do yourself a tremendous amount of good. I recommend that people buy a little digital recorder and when you leave a meeting summarize to yourself what just happened. You never have to listen to that recording again. The recorder is there primarily so you don't feel stupid about talking to yourself. Taking 90 seconds helps to solidify the experience you just had and will improve your memory for it rather than just moving on to the next thing.

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