In2:InThinking 2015 Conference Presentation

June 11th, 2015   •   1 comment   

The Secret Life of Organizations

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Yolo County Department of Child Support Services

August 12th, 2014   •   2 comments   

Non-positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency

Presentation Notes:

Non-positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency

Yolo County Department of Child Support Services
Presented by Ariane David, PhD

Today you’ll see that you don’t really know what you think you know …at the same time you’ll learn how to “see” what you’ve never been able to see before Non-Positional Thinking: Thinking Beyond the Obvious

We’ll look at:
• How we think vs. how we think we think
• The tyrant brain and what it means in real life
• So now what?

Non-positional Thinking: Thinking Beyond the Obvious

The Science of the Brain: A Quick Tour

Max Wertheimer’s Stroboscope: The whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Sir Frederick Bartlett – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas The War of the Ghosts – Sydney “Asian” mask * Schemas

Bartlett (cont) – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas

Sir Frederick Bartlett – Making Memory, Meaning, & Schemas The War of the Ghosts – Sydney “Asian” mask Schemas

Elizabeth Loftus – Eyewitness Testimony What we store in memory is affected not only by pre- existing knowledge but also by post-event information including • Language • Other information What we remember might never have happened.

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking Perception
Millions of bits of information assail our senses every minute; we can perceive only a tiny number of sensory impressions.

We focus only on what is immediately relevant and what arouses us emotionally. Perception is shaped by past experiences including memories and beliefs. As a result, our actions are based on what we believe is so, not on what actually is so.

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking Emotions
Emotions are body reactions to what’s happening Every sensory impression is paired with an emotion (called an emotional tag) at the moment of perception

The pair become memory The purpose of emotional tags is rapid response

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking
Emotions The role of emotions in decision-making The myth of rational decision-making Suppressed vs. no emotions

Antonio Damasio: The Neurobiology of Thinking
Memory Memory is not a video; memories are NOT stored complete anywhere in the brain.

What we think of as memory is the result the simultaneous firing of neurons, “a trick of timing”. Neurons carry no content, only the pattern code by which neurons will fire, and when. Think the image on your TV.

…thus What we remember is a subjective and creative fabrication What we remember changes every time we recall it. We can never be certain about what we remember. Confidence in our memories has nothing to do with accuracy: memories can be completely fabricated and seem absolutely real.
…as a result You can never be certain that what you remember actually happened the way you remember it; in fact, you can be certain that it didn’t! Thus Uncertainty is the first contingency of non-positional thinking.

Organizing Patterns: a model of the thinking brain Organizing patterns are a kind of template that allow us to organize everything we know. We start building organizing patterns at birth. Our first/master organizing patterns are the strongest, and most persistent and resilient. All future organizing patterns are formed within master organizing patterns. The totality of all our organizing patterns creates our constructed universe – our entire reality.

Organizing Patterns: reinforce themselves No impartial evidence needed. What we perceive is taken as proof that our position/beliefs are right. Position/beliefs dictate what we see, what we see reinforces the position/beliefs.

Organizing Patterns Reinforce Themselves

Examples of Simple Organizing Patterns

View from Apollo 17

Here’s the details for the October Hill Country Wine & Supper Club Dinner: Date: Thursday, October 4, 2012 Time: 6:30 p.m. Where: River City Grille, Marble Falls, TX Cost: $40 per person, which includes a three-course meal, three glasses of wine, and recipe booklet. Tax and gratuity not included. Featured Winery: Stone House Vineyard October Hill Country Wine & Supper Club Menu Warm Artichoke & Crap Dip with Toasted Baguettes Filet of Sole Fish En Papillote with Au Gratin Potatoes Raspberry & Chocolate Cream Cheese Stuffed Cupcakes

Why is it important to know this? We each live in a universe of our own construction. Its organizing patterns and logic are perfect for physical survival, but absent the beasts they can be a real barrier to clear thinking. Uncertainty is the first contingency of non-positional thinking.

Organizing Patterns > Positional Thinking The Tyrant Brain Tyranny of Knowledge* Tyranny of Emotions* Tyranny of Logic *

Tyranny of Knowledge
Choosing existing knowledge simply because it’s the knowledge we have. Assuming that the knowledge we have is better than knowledge we don’t have (yet) or the knowledge of others. Doing what worked in the past only because it worked in the past, without examining how appropriate that strategy is in light new information, including assuming the future will be like the past.

Tyranny of Knowledge:
General’s Dilemma Fulfilled Expectations Success Double Bind

Tyranny of Emotions Every organizing pattern is permanently grounded in emotions (as well as sensory experience). Thus, every one of our responses is also grounded in emotion. Emotions affect logic, but cannot be dealt with logically.

Tyranny of Emotion:
We take cognitive shortcuts in our reasoning to help us make sense quickly, but fail to verify the accuracy. Shortcut errors Stereotyping Biases These had important survival value on the savannah!
Allport & Postman 1942

Tyranny of Logic

What is logic? What determines if something is logical? Can logic be wrong?

Tyranny of Logic
Logic is nothing more than the rules you’ve made up for navigating within your constructed universe! These rules are based on how easily and powerfully one thought gets connected to another: thoughts that connect easily are seen to be logical.

There are as many different systems of logic as there are beings on the earth. Logic is subjective like taste. Nothing is ever “illogical”; things are just “differently-logical”

Why does this matter in non-positional thinking?

Tyranny of Logic:
Zero-sum illusion
Baboon trap Lost
Key dilemma

What is logic? What determines if something is logical? Can logic be wrong?

Logic is nothing more than the rules you’ve made up for navigating within your constructed universe! These rules are based on how easily and powerfully one thought gets connected to another: thoughts that connect easily are seen to be logical.

There are as many different systems of logic as there are beings on the earth. (The jury’s out on extra-terrestrials) Logic is subjective like taste. Nothing is ever “illogical”; things are just “differently-logical” Why does this matter in non-positional thinking?

Zero Sum Illusion
Believing that there is a limited amount of “solution”, including “either/or”, “middle-of-the-road”, and “fixed position” thinking. Think politics!
Baboon Trap Thinking for the short term, not how current actions lead to future outcomes. Seeing only parts, but not how they’re related or how they form a whole. Attachment to unworkable situations. Ex. Our LIVES!

Lost Key Dilemma
Looking for information/solutions/answers somewhere only because that’s where the information is easy to access. Ex. case load, education, quarterly reports, Deming, Vioxx. Not everything that can be counted counts; not everything that counts can be counted. (Variously attributed to Albert Einstein, W. Edwards Deming and a half dozen others)

The opportunity lies in a new way of thinking, one that is based on how we actually think rather than how we believe we think. It is called Non-Positional Thinking

What Non-positional Thinking Is:
It is based in the knowledge that human thought is fallible, that we cannot trust what we think we know (uncertainty). Non-positional thinking is a way of being. It rises above the “position” to view other positions equally. We never arrive at being a non-positional thinker; we can only strive to think non-positionally. Non-positional thinking requires commitment and perseverance.

What Non-positional Thinking Is Not:
Non-positional thinking is not a short-cut to effective reasoning. A linear process, recipe, or check list for how to think (we cannot think non-positionally until we grasp the fallibility of our thought). A tool-kit of techniques and methodologies. A destination or a position in the middle.

Non-Positional thinking is Based on Four Contingencies
Contingencies of Non-Positional Thinking and Intellectual Virtues Uncertainty > intellectual humility Curiosity > intellectual openness Discernment > wisdom Commitment > courage

Uncertainty Contingency:
Humility Uncertainty means realizing that our knowledge about the world is massively unreliable, that it is our personal constructed universe. Our constructed universe is not the world, just a good-enough representation of it that allows us to survive(ish). Certainty that our constructed universe is the world leads to almost all of the world’s problems. Humility is the realization that we and all humans, and our knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions are fallible. Uncertainty doesn’t mean being paralyzed by doubt, but rather being aware of the fallibility of our knowledge..

Uncertainty Contingency:
Skills What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?
The Ability To: Being able to accept hold in our minds the notion that human beings, and our knowledge and beliefs are fallible, and… that we base our point of view on assumptions that may or may not be accurate. Keep ALL conclusions, no matter how excellent they are now, open to future scrutiny.
Doubt constructively, with the intention of learning. Realize that our beliefs cannot tell us anything about the world.

The uncertainty contingency makes us realize that we can’t be certain what color the ball actually is no matter how obvious it seems. The curiosity contingency makes us want to find out.

Curiosity Contingency:
Openness Curiosity means that (in the light of our uncertainty) we are eager and determined to discover what we don’t know, the knowing of which could change everything. That we are eager to see the merit in the other points of view. It leads to the impartial gathering of relevant information.

Curiosity Contingency:
Skills Enthusiastically and impartially seek and collect the relevant information. Maintain an open-minded outlook with respect to our own beliefs and to the assertions of others. Honestly ask and answer, “Do I really want to know what lies outside my point of view?” The Ability To: What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Discernment Contingency:
Wisdom Attempting to see things truly as opposed to looking for confirming evidence; desire to weigh evidence impartially. Recognizing and questioning our own assumptions and biases and seeking to go beyond them. Judging the merits of our own point of view by the same standards we use to judge others’ points of view.

Discernment Contingency:
Skills Attempt to see things as they truly are. Be truthful (at least to ourselves). Weigh information fairly, i.e., judging the merits of our own beliefs with the same rigor and by the same standards by which we judge the merits of others. Recognize when information is factual, tangible, provable, anecdotal, or opinion, including assessing the credibility of the sources (including ourselves) and what they have to gain or lose. Identify and question assumptions and the assumptions of those we tend to believe. Heartily seek an impartial solution. The Ability To:

Commitment Contingency:
Courage Commitment is the overarching principle. It means being determined to move beyond our own point of view, assumptions, judgments, and conclusions (organizing patterns) even in the face of our own fear. It means having the courage to acknowledge and act on those discoveries, including being willing to change our dearly held position. It means tolerance for differing, even opposing, points of view.

Commitment Contingency:
Skills Accept new evidence even if it conflicts with previous beliefs. Be courageous enough to acknowledge it. Discard hypotheses that have proved inadequate. Adapt oneself to the facts of this world. Persevere even in the face of our own discomfort. Operate in a demonstrably fair and tolerant way. The Ability To: What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Strategic Doubting and Believing
Strategic Doubting and Believing We need strategic doubting for those things we’re certain of, things that we think need no questioning. We need strategic believing for those things that we tend to dismiss or that repel us. Neither comes easy to human beings. Both are necessary to non-positional thinking What is it that I am not seeing the seeing of which would change everything?

Strategic Doubting: Doubt About What is Most Believable to Us The intention is to open-mindedly scrutinize appealing assertions or beliefs. The purpose is not to reject them but to better understand them. It involves conscious and willful skepticism for our own dearly held beliefs and other assertions we find particularly attractive. In non-positional doubting we are testing for validity. Strategic doubting comes from the realization that we can’t be certain of what we know.

Strategic Believing: Believing What is Most Doubtful The intention is to act “as if” we believed an unattractive proposition in order to see the merits of the argument before we attempt to debunk it. The purpose is not to accept the proposition, but to try to see all the things about it that we hadn’t seen before, including hidden merits, in order to to understand it. It is not just about listening to different views, or being respectful of them, but being able to restate them impartially.

Strategic Doubting and Believing Breakout Exercise

Problem Solving and Decision Making

How To Get Rid of the Bridge Bat Problem
Bridge-Bats Bind: Classic Problem Solving Methodology What is the issue or problem? What information do I have? What information do you need to solve it? What is the plan/methodology for solving the problem? What are possible solutions? What are pros and cons of each solution? What is your solution? Bat Breakout and Discussion

Break, 10 minutes

Non-Positional Problem Solving A View of the Problem From Higher Up

Non-Positional Problem Solving Is based on the notions that Beneath every apparent problem lies the actual far more complex and hard to see problem. Solving only the apparent problem usually leads to worse problems. The actual problem involves people and how they think about the problem. Discovering what the actual problem is is the most important part of finding the solution! There is no problem that doesn’t have a solution if we are willing to change the way we think about it. Constantin David

Classical Problem Solving Methodology (doesn’t work for a complex problem; never has!) Identify the issue or problem. Gather information about the problem. Identify possible solutions/decisions. Determine the pros and cons of each solution. Choose a solution. Do it. Review the outcomes.

First ask What is my/the goal? – Is the goal to get rid of the issue or to validate my position?( Ex. To get rid of the “problem” or get rid of the bats? To serve the customer or to serve the needs of managers?) What is my position? – Am I willing to find out that I’m wrong? Do I really want to know or do I have my mind made up? – What will I lose if I am wrong? (note: we ALWAYS have something to lose.) – Is there anything that could persuade me I’m wrong? If the answer is YES, and you are actually in uncertainty, then… A Different Approach: Finding the Actual Issue is the most important part

Next Find out what is the problem or issue actually is – Are we looking at the same problem? What do I believe the problem to be? What do they believe it to be? (Feelings often masquerade as facts.) –

What am I taking as a given (assumptions)? What if those things were not so? (Non-positional doubting of our own position) – What are the facts? (observables, behaviors, results?) – What human dynamics are involved? Non-positional Problem Solving: Finding the Actual Issue

Next Find out what is the problem or issue actually is – Look for what you haven’t seen before. “What is it I’m not seeing about this problem that is keeping this problem in place?” If you’ve heard it all before, you’re not listening. – Have I honestly sought information that disconfirms my beliefs? – What language is being used? Does it mean the same thing to both of us? Neutral or positional? How is it biasing our understanding of the problem? Non-positional Problem Solving: Finding the Actual Issue

The Next Part is Easy What could be alternative explanations for the facts (observables, not assumptions or judgments)? What information or evidence is there? What disconfirming evidence (strategic doubting) is there for my position and confirming evidence (strategic believing) for theirs?

Non-positional Problem Solving
Non-Positional Solutions The easy part (cont.) What are possible solutions for the actual problem? Which one best fulfills the real goal? What is the reasoning process I used in order to reach this conclusion? What effects will this decision have on the larger system now and in the long run?

Solving the Bridge Bat Problem
Additional Bat Information This information was readily available to anyone at the time of crisis: 500,000 bats eat 10,000 pounds of bugs every day Bats are no more prone to rabies than squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons or other wild animals No cases of rabid bats were reported in the area While there were several cases of bat bites, most not breaking the skin All bite cases involved people trying to handle or interfere with bats, or of bats that got trapped

Bridge-bats – what is the real problem? Breakout

Austin Bats Create an Industry

Creating a Learning Organization

Two Kinds of Learning Adaptive learning – Based in fear – Uses blame to succeed – Purpose is survival – Defensive Generative learning – Based in curiosity and openness – Uses accountability to succeed – Purpose is growth and self-expression – Creative
Non-Learning Organization: Positional Problem Solving BLAME Problem Fear Blame / Fault DefensivenessDenial Distorted Information Ineffective Action / No Learning Fear /Blame No learning can take place in the space of blame.

Learning Organization: Non-Positional Problem Solving Problem Quality information and communication CollaborationEffective action Organizational learning Openness / Curiosity Accountability Mistakes are the price we pay for learning.

Workplace Issue Breakout

You say WHAT? Stuck in Organizing Patterns “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – HM Warner, Warner Bros, 1927 “I think there is a world market for about five computers“ – Thomas Watson, CEO, IBM 1958 …and the winner “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” – Grover Cleveland, US President 1905
Non-Positional Thinking: Thinking That Transforms Everything A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. – William James It is much easier to believe than to think. – James Harvey Robinson

The Uncertainty Proposition “Question everything at least once in your life…” (not “something” but “everything”!) “Doubt is the organ of wisdom.” Rene Descartes
Parting Thought… It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Shrink-Wrapped in Our Own Thinking: Thinking That Transforms Questions/Comments/Feedback Ariane David, PhD The Veritas Group Additional Information Non-Positional Thinking and The Uncertainty Contingency

The Tyranny Of Knowledge

June 20th, 2014   •   no comments   

The Tyranny of Knowledge
In2:InThinking Conference 2014
Aerojet Rocketdyne

Transcript: 6/20/14

DR. ARIANE DAVID: All right, so positional thinking, there are – here are some of the thinking errors that we see in organizations. One is the tyranny of knowledge and we have all experienced this.

“Why are we doing this?”

“Well I don’t know, we have just always done it. This is the way we do it.”

“Well I have a better way.”

“No. no. no. This is the way we do it, you have to do it this way.”

Tyranny of knowledge has plagued us throughout history.

In ancient Greece, there really was no codified body of knowledge. People taught what they experienced, and what they observed.

And the philosophers came along and they thought about things. And they thought and they said, “This must be what’s going on here.”

Then Aristotle came along. And Aristotle was literally the first know it all. He knew everything, and he wrote about literally everything.

And he wrote about it, with absolute certainty. And he wrote volumes, and the number of those volumes persisted through to the Middle Ages.

And were rediscovered by Europe in the Middle Ages in about the 11th century.

All of a sudden, imagine a society emerging from the Dark Ages, where Charlemagne didn’t know how to write.

So there was very little learning, except the practical learning of agriculture. And now, all of the sudden, these incredible works of Aristotle were brought to the west, mostly by Arab scholars. 

And suddenly, there were books about everything. A book, “why there is wind”, “why we have sex”, “Why the planets do what they do”, “what is just”, “what is not just”.

Now the problem was that Aristotle meant well, but he was wrong most of time.

But this knowledge was taken in, and it was Baptized, you know, Aquinas had to make it fit into the message of the church.

But he did that quite successfully. And it was adopted and that’s what was taught for hundreds of years.

And if you did not teach Aristotle, you didn’t have students. You couldn’t teach in universities. Because that was the knowledge.

And when we have knowledge, when we know what’s going on, what happens? You don’t have to look.

You don’t have to look because you know. So there’s no experimentation. There’s no questioning.

In fact, the questioning finally took place really by the outliers of medieval society; Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes.

You know, they went outside of the church, they went outside of the social structure and finally did some experimentation.

Of course, it was Descartes who said, “If you would be a true seeker after truth, doubt everything in your life at least once.”

This was – this was revolutionary and could have gotten him burned at the stake, but he was very very clever.

And he said, “There are the things of God over here, and that’s everything. But then there are the things of man, science, and we can study the things of man.

We can’t study the things of God. We can only believe.” So he was able to successfully separate the world of the intellect from the world of the spirit.

Transcribed by Bam Transcription

Rocketdyne’s Aerojet In2:In Thinking Forum Presentation

June 18th, 2014   •   no comments   

The Secret Life of Organizations

Critical Thinking Workshop: Ventura County Department of Child Support Services

March 19th, 2014   •   2 comments   

The Tyranny of Knowledge: The Second Uncertainty Principle

February 20th, 2014   •   2 comments   

The Tyranny of Knowledge Part Two: The Second Uncertainty Principle

“Prior to the Greeks books had played no great part in the development, dissemination, and transmission of culture from generation to generation. Now they were to become a cardinal force in advancing and retarding the mind’s expansion.”
James Harvey Robinson

The ancient Greeks weren’t fettered by the existence of a hallowed body of knowledge or by a stifling intellectual tradition.

They had no intellectual past and no sense of history beyond the memories of those who lived to tell. Thought was free and malleable.

It varied teacher to teacher, with no “right” form, and each teacher taught how and what he wanted. While there was a rich tradition of cultural myths, they weren’t written down anywhere.

Myths and knowledge of all kinds were simply passed down by word of mouth, growing and changing with every telling. For the most part, in the absence of scientific jargon, the words they used to describe thought were the words of simple everyday life.

Aristotle was the first to codify knowledge.

He took what he knew (and that was sizable!) about ethics, logic, politics, law, god, science, and psychology and sociology, and wrote them up into a number of volumes so comprehensive that they seemed to encompass all of the world’s knowledge. These were, in a sense, the world’s first textbooks!

The chronicle of Aristotle’s works after his death is ambiguous, but it’s certain that much was lost in the centuries subsequent to their writing. They found their way to the early Arabic scholars who revered them. These scholars copied and recopied them, and finally introduced them to medieval Europe in the twelfth century.

The accumulated knowledge of the western world until this time was pitifully sparse, and the medieval world was ready for more. With the reworking of Aristotle’s works by Thomas Aquinas, who cleaned them up to make them compatible with Christian theology, came the great medieval intellectual revival.

Simply “The Philosopher”

So without peer was Aristotle that he became known simply as “The Philosopher”, and so popular were his baptized works that in many instances they became the sole resource of universities.

For hundreds of years Aristotle dominated the medieval scholarly scene. Non-Aristotelian resources were either banned completely, or those who taught them were heavily fined and often found themselves without students to teach. And why not, Aristotle’s comprehensive works covered every subject imaginable.

Nothing more was necessary, including scientific research of any kind; all was known, and it was easier to use old knowledge than to add to it. The medieval mind was much better suited to faith to than questioning.

And therein lay the rub: it was so much safer and easier to discuss and re-discuss Aristotle’s ideas than to venture out into the uncertainty of questioning and research.

The Obstinacy of Inertia

Ironically, the very compilation of knowledge that so advanced medieval learning, eventually became one of the biggest obstacles to the acquisition of new knowledge. After all, no learning is necessary, no advancement of knowledge possible, when everything is known already.

Historian James Harvey Robinson observed that old knowledge takes no effort at all to maintain: it simply goes on and on under the sheer obstinacy of inertia; it relies on faith alone.

On the other hand, acquisition of new knowledge requires questioning, openness, thought, energy, and above all, courage. Our survival oriented human brains are much better suited to take things on faith than to suffer the discomfort of not knowing.

Francis Bacon once remarked that people are much more prone to believing the popular, superficial, and safe than they are to risking the profound and unknown.

Thinking, he noted, is like a river: what is carried downstream are the things that are lightweight and of little substance, while the weighty things simply go under.

Da Vinci and Galileo

The scientific inquiry that did take place in medieval Europe didn’t happen in the universities where the old Aristotelian knowledge was considered complete and unassailable. Universities had no place in emerging scientific thought that was to materialize in the late middle ages.

Rather scientific inquiry took place among scattered daring new thinkers such as Da Vinci, Galileo, Descartes and Newton, who tinkered with contraptions made up of lenses, wheels, pulleys, and prisms and who based their inquiry on questioning rather than on knowledge.

These were renegades who dared to venture from the anointed path and finally broke the spell of the medieval tyranny of knowledge.

“I think, therefore I am” was not a declaration of purpose, but a statement of doubt.

Descartes realized that the tyranny of knowledge existed not only institutionally and culturally but formed the basis of individual human thinking. Humans, he observed, could not tell the difference between what actually existed in the world and what they conjured into existence in their minds.

While Descartes had no knowledge of neuroscience he “grokked” the basic unreliability of human knowledge.

Thus his famous entreaty to doubt: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt … all things.”

Not some things, but all things.

CONTACT: Ariane David
TAGS: How Memory Works, Tyranny of Knowledge, Aristotle, Da Vinci, Descartes, Francis Bacon, Galieleo, Historian James Harvey Robinson, Ariane David PhD

Miracle on Manchester: How Success Betrays Us

January 14th, 2014   •   1 comment   

The Single Greatest Moment in Stanley Cup History

In 1982 the Kings finally made it to the playoffs. This was not particularly momentous since the Kings had made it to the playoffs the four preceding years, just to be eliminated in the first round. In spite of that, the Kings were my team and I loved them. Yet these days I often felt like a jilted lover as they regularly botched easy shots and lost games to lower ranked teams.

They hadn’t always been this way. In the ’70s they held their own, and they even had a decent enough 80-81 season. But then in ’81-’82 they took a nose dive. Their total goals were well below the NHL average and when it came to preventing goals, it sometimes looked as though they were playing for the other team.

Third Game of the First Round

Kings LogoThis was third game of the first round 1982 playoffs: Edmonton Oilers led, by the greatest of the greats, Wayne Gretsky, against the Kings. In light of the Kings recent record, it was understandable that the Oilers, and just about everyone else, expected an easy win for the Oilers.

The game went as expected; the score at the end of the second period was Oilers – 5, Kings – 0. Before the Zamboni had finished half the ice, the stands were half empty. Clearly there wasn’t much interest in witnessing the final humiliation.

Wayne Gretsky in an Interview

Sometime later Wayne Gretsky acknowledged that in the Oilers locker room that night after the second period they made fun of the Kings. Not for a single instant did they doubt that they knew exactly how the Kings would play the final period or that the game would end in an Oilers’ victory.

Why the Oilers Strategy Failed

Let me back up here and say something about the Kings’ strategy. The Kings had been successful in the ’70s using a conservative defensive strategy, based on preventing opponent goals in low scoring games. Miracle on Manchester 1982 Stanley Cup FinalsAs people tend to do, they held tight to their winning model never questioning it as time went on.

The beginning to the ’80s saw a shift in the game. The times were changing, as they inevitable do, but the Kings didn’t notice. The game turned fast and offensive, and the Kings seemed unable to adapt. That night in April, 1982 the Kings were again working their obsolete strategy, and it was bringing them ruin.

Back in their locker room, the Oilers were cocky and laughing, and vowing to stick to their strategy. They were ahead five goals, an impossible number to make up, especially by the Kings. Believing they had nothing to lose they decided to continue playing fast and risky, concentrating on racking up as many goals as possible, rather than preventing the Kings from scoring.

Kings Desperation Opened the Way to Insight

In the Kings’ locker room, desperation opened the way to insight: they would finally change their thinking and their strategy. Banking on the notion that the Oilers, certain of their win, would continue with their strategy of favoring goals over blocking , the Kings decided that in the next period they would concentrate on scoring, but they would do it in a focused, methodical way, making each move count.

The Oilers Never Saw it Coming

Miracle on Manchester 1982 Stanley Cup FinalsIn the third period the Kings came back and scored and scored again until with a little over three minutes to go in the game the score was 5-4 Oilers. The Oilers never saw it coming. Then the unthinkable happened: thirty seconds before the end of the third period the Kings made the final goal of the period tying the score at 5-5, sending the game into overtime.

Another intermission. No one left the stands. Then history was made. Two minutes and 35 seconds into overtime the Kings scored. The game was won in what has been call the single greatest moment in Stanley Cup history.

The Thinking Behind the Strategy

This game has been analyzed many times from many different perspectives.
Miracle on Manchester Stanley Cup Playoff 1982For me the most interesting perspective has to do with the thinKing that went behind this game, the thinking of the Kings and of the Oilers. The Kings were so mired in their beliefs about the strategy that had brought them victory in the 70s, that even in the light of their spectacular under-performance in the 80s, they never questioned it, not until that night in 1982.

It Cost the Oilers the Game

Miracle on Manchester 1982 Stanley Cup FinalsThe Oilers, giddy from their success that night, never asked themselves if there was something more they should be thinking about or if there was something they weren’t seeing. They assumed that the end of the game would be like the beginning, but it was not. Their taken-for-granted thinking cost them the game.

Both teams were so betrayed by their successful strategy that they didn’t bother to question the thinking or assumptions behind it. Fortunately for the Kings, in the kind of breathtaking inspiration that comes out of desperation they did break through and won the game.

I was there that night, and I did not desert my Kings. This time they rewarded my love.

Besides the Oilers, the losers were Jerry Buss, who assumed the Kings’ loss and went home and those spectators who decided en masse that there was nothing more to be seen and left before the dazzling third period.

If you have any questions about critical and strategic thinking please send me a note from our contact page or email me at ADavid[at]

It’s Time … Not a Closet

December 19th, 2013   •   no comments   

Getting the Most Out of How We Use Time

Time Management Dr Ariane DavidIt’s a funny thing about closet space, the more we have, the more we fill. And, when we run out of space we think, I need more closet space or I need a clever way of stuffing more into the space I have.

So we refold, reorganize, vacuum seal and even throw some stuff away.

Sometimes, a week later we discover that we really wish we had some of the stuff we got rid of.

Time is Like Closet Space

Time is like closet space: we fill up the time we have, discover we haven’t enough, and start reorganizing and dumping, all the while getting more and more stressed. Complete Article: Time Management

Papa’s Glasses and the Tyranny of Knowledge

November 19th, 2013   •   5 comments   

By Ariane David PhD

Dr Constance David

Dr Constantin David

When I was growing up we lived in the rear of a language school that my parents ran and in which they both taught.

My father’s office was on the left just beyond the foyer of the large old Victorian house that had been a language school for so many years and the home of a wealthy family for so many years before that.

I came home from school one day and passing my father’s office I looked in.

Stacking optical lenses.

Stacking optical lenses.

I saw him as usual seated behind is large wooden desk, his back to the window, the cat to one side sleeping on a stack of papers. In front of him were a pair of glasses, his extra pair, and a number of round glass lenses that might have come from a camera.

I watched as he took two lenses put them together and held them up to his eye. He added a third and did the same. Over and over again he repeated this process using different combinations.

First and Foremost, He Was a Thinker

Lenses stacked together.

Lenses stacked together.

Finally, apparently satisfied with one of the combinations he taped the stack of lenses together around the edges with white bandage tape. With more tape, he stuck them to the frame of his extra pair of glasses. He put them on and stood up.

He went to the book case, reached for a book and put it back, reached for another and put it back, too. He went to the kitchen, poured water into a glass and poured it out again. He returned to his desk, reached for a pencil in the middle of his pencil cup and returned it to the very same spot.

He walked around with this odd thing on his face for two days. At the end of that time he announced that he had found the answer. He placed the assembled glasses into his briefcase, put on his eye patch, and left the house.

He Had Found the Answer

eye-chart-200I had never known my father without glasses, but a couple of years earlier he had started wearing an eye patch that he switched from eye to eye every few hours. I never understood why, although it had something to do with his eyes no longer working together, so he saw two of everything.

But, he assured me, they worked just fine separately if he used them one at a time. His ophthalmologist had told him that there was no solution to the problem except to wear a patch over one eye.

For all the things my father had done in his life, he was first and foremost a thinker. He thought about social justice, the origin of words, the evolution of music, and how the soul and subtleties of light and color could be reproduced on a canvas.

In Europe he had been a documentary film maker, which led to an interest in cameras and lenses. Of late, his interest had turned to finding a way to design a three dimensional movie projector.

No Problem Does Not Have a Solution

It was the latter that inspired him to seek his own solution to his double vision. He had some knowledge of optics and lenses but no knowledge of ophthalmological principles.

Medical science had told him that nothing could be done for his eyes, yet he was not constrained by the boundaries of their knowledge.

He used to say that there was no problem that did not have a solution if one were willing to forget what he knows and change his thinking.

Problem Solving and Our Creativity

The contrivance on his glasses was his answer to seeing double. From the taped-together stack of lenses the optician was able to derive an optical formula and grind a single lens for each eye. My father never wore a patch after that, only thick glasses.

Several years later, he was asked to speak at an ophthalmological conference where he explained to the assembled physicians what had inspired him to seek a solution to a problem they believed had no such solution.

The way the brain handles knowledge is a double-edged sword. On one hand knowledge is the greatest tool we have for understanding the world in which we live.

The knowledge we possess makes up the raw material for everything we think; it’s an essential component of all our ideas, our decisions, our problem solving and our creativity.

When it is allowed to be fluid and ever evolving knowledge is exciting and inspiring, and leaves us craving more.

The Tyranny of Knowledge

Yet, at some point, knowledge can do just the opposite. It can become the very thing that holds us back.

As we grow complacent and comfortable in our knowledge it becomes stale and our brains grow lazy.

When our brains say to us “I know! There’s no need to look further”, we stop questioning and become willing submissives to the tyranny of knowledge.

CONTACT: Ariane David
NEXT: Part 2 – Aristotle, Schrödinger and the Tyranny of Knowledge
TAGS: How Memory Works, Tyranny of Knowledge

When Loopholes Overtook Merlons: How We See Only a Tiny Bit of What’s Really There

September 5th, 2013   •   2 comments   

Reliably Unreliable Memory

This is the second installment in a series of monthly articles entitled “Reliably Unreliable”. These articles shine a light on undependability our mind/brain, with an eye to improving the quality of our thinking.

Read Part 1: How the War of the Ghosts Helped Find the Sydney

Thinking Outside the Loophole: Seeing What’s Really There

Dr Ariane David Critical ThinkingNow imagine you are an archer in the service of a medieval castle in, say, the year 1100. You defend your castle from the topmost battlements.

From your position high above the ground you have an unrestricted view of the surrounding countryside. You see the enemy advance with its archers and siege engines.

When arrows and random projectiles started hurtling your way you duck behind a merlon and only step out from behind it to launch your own arrows.

And therein lay the problem: in order to do that you step into the line of fire. This, sadly, proved the end of many a castle archer.

Fast forward a hundred years when a new architectural feature hit the castle scene. Dr Ariane David Organizational Cultural AnthropologyThe feature was all about protecting the archers; it allowed them to launch arrows continuously while remaining safe and hidden.

Loopholes in Medieval Europe

This feature, called a loophole, first appeared in ancient Greece in the third century BCE but didn’t find its way to Europe and England until the 12th century.

On the outside loopholes were as tall as a man but only as wide as his fist.

On the inside the slit flared into an opening or embrasure that could be many feet wide. This interior wedge of space gave the archer room to maneuver and launch arrows through the slit.

He could pivot his body to cover a tapering slice of land below, but only a very small area was visible at any given time.

Loopholes were long vertical apertures or windows in thick castle walls.

The benefit of the loophole was clear: it kept the archer safe from incoming arrows. But it had a downside: the view from any single loophole was at best extremely limited.

And therein lay the dilemma of the loophole: archers had to sacrifice visibility and flexibility in favor of safety.

What was given up when loopholes overtook merlons was the larger picture of what was going on outside the view from the loophole.

Loopholes and the Bureaucracy of the Brain

Human brains have their own version of the loophole dilemma, and it’s literally built into our DNA. Survival of our distant forebears required that they be able to process just the right bits information at any given time.

Too much and important information would be buried in the deluge of sensory data. Individuals without this ability did not survive for long.

To handle this, early hominid brains developed a strategy that was so effective it lives on in us today. It is a circular system full of red tape. Out of the millions of bits of random data that enter our senses at any given instant, only the sensory information that fits the criteria for admittance into perception is allowed in.

The criteria have everything to do with what has direct and immediate relevance to the situation at hand. This information enters the brain through short term memory (short term memory is really that: it has a shelf-life of just seconds). Of that information, only lastingly relevant information is transferred to long term memory; the rest is discarded, lost forever.

Dr Ariane David The Bureaucracy of the Brain's Organizing Patterns

Survival required that we be able to process just the right bits information at any given time.

This bureaucracy of the brain takes place within a system called organizing patterns, the real forces for survival. Organizing patterns are the brain mechanism though which all incoming sensory data is classified according to pre-existing patterns already stored in the brain.

Not only is all new information classified in this way, but these pre-existing organizing patterns are the only channels through which information can enter into memory.

These patterns allowed our forebears to react instantly to stimuli (Can I eat it? Can it eat me?) without having to go through a rigorous process of analysis of each new situation. Such a lengthy process would have greatly reduced the chances of eating and greatly increased those of being eaten!

Clear and Organized but Rarely Accurate or Complete

Like loopholes, organizing patterns did a lot for our chances of survival, but as with loopholes there was a price to pay. Organizing patterns gave us the ability to have a clear organized view of the world out of which we could make instantaneous decisions (clear and organized perhaps, but rarely accurate or complete).

What we sacrificed for this security was our ability to see a larger more diverse view of the world. We are literally stuck peering through our organizing patterns. It is a narrow field of vision, limited to the collective information already stored and organized in our brains.

In a circular process organizing patterns alter new information so that it fits into what we already believe. The altered new information in turn reinforces the organizing patterns, and round and round it goes. This becomes our whole world, our wedge of ground outside our loophole; it IS our reality, and nothing really new ever enters our cognition. Change tends to be restricted to a small window of comfort.

Lessons From the Loophole Dilemma

There are some lessons we can learn from the loophole dilemma. Loopholes teach us that what we believe to be fact is in reality a small and very limited view of what is actually there. We are limited by the existing constraints of our organizing patterns, and completely blind to the fact that we ARE limited.

We could also learn that when we think we are changing or acquiring new understandings, we are like the archer pivoting from side to side in his embrasure always within the loophole and always seeing just a tiny area.

In order to see a broader view we would need to leave the safety of our mental embrasures and inquire what might be out there that we haven’t seen, the seeing of which might change everything.

Contact: Ariane David      Call: 818 704 6718      Email
TAGS: How Memory Works, Critical Thinking, The Bureaucracy of the Brain, Dr Ariane David Organizational Cultural Anthropology
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