Thebastidge: Cognitive Styles
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    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Cognitive Styles

    I've read quite a bit about different styles of thinking, personalities etc.

    The literature (mostly written by Americans, or at least Western Europeans) tends to focus on being more accepting of and able to connect with non-linear thinkers, so-called creative types and other styles of personality.

    That's great and all. I've benefited from my ability to do that very thing. It's valuable inter-personal skill to have.

    But let me backtrack for a moment and sing the praises of the linear thinker.

    Watching my co-worker today, struggling with training of some Iraqi personnel, and finally just recording all the instructions in a web-cam video for further dissemination made me recall some of my own efforts in years past trying to train Korean personnel. There was something in common there; a seeming difficulty in simply performing a step-by-step instruction as given.

    By no means is this disability absent in our own society. A military officer was in our office a few days ago, asking for help with a very simple task. By the time his problem was solved our guys were cursing and frustrated (once he left, of course, maintaining professionalism). This is a guy who seems not un-intelligent, is very personable, you want to help him... but he's hopeless when it comes to anything "technical". I tried to bet he was a "12 o'clock flasher" but no one would take the bet. This guy can't even seem to follow a step-by-step instruction on plugging in cables for a common device. Not a vague- "just plug it in" but a step by step "cable A into Jack B" set of steps.

    Even if one is not naturally a linear thinker, styles of thinking can be practiced. Witness the brainstorming session- an exercise in creative thinking. If one puts some effort into it, anyone can think in a technical fashion to some limited degree. But many people are simply unwilling to do so, and some cultures are more predisposed towards or away from it, in my experience.

    Here's the thing about linear, serial, cause-and-effect thinking. It is the workhorse by which the majority of advances are made. Not the break-through insights, necessarily, but the testing of the theory, and the development of practical applications for those insights. It's most often harnessed towards making thing easier, which then gives one more leisure time to think creatively about how to make things better.

    Most of what keeps you, the modern techno-citizen (who else has time to waste reading my blog?) alive and healthy, was created by logical, cause-and-effect linear-thinking engineers, and is maintained by trained technicians who have, to some extent, been taught to think and act in a way consistent with logical, linear cause-and-effect natural phenomena.

    Take that away and the creative types starve.


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