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Think Smarter

Book Review of: Think Smarter

Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

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Review of Think Smarter, by Michael Kallet (Hardcover, 2014)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer:

It might be easy to confuse this title with "Think Smart" by Dr. Restak. The two books are unrelated. The Restak book is based on medical research into the plasticity of the brain. This book is based upon the author's practical experience with critical thinking methodology.

Think Smarter is an excellent addition to the existing literature on thinking, problem-solving, and intelligence (yes, all of those topics). I also recommend it for managers, engineers, programmers, executives, policy-wonks, and others who are frequently confronted by tough problems. Thinking your way to a good solution is not normal for people in these positions, it's exceptional. If you hold one of these positions, applying what you learn in this book can make your performance exceptional.

Perhaps due to the author's practical, hands-on background, this book is practical in its presentation. That's true in several ways, such as these:

  • He keeps it concise. This is a hallmark of good instruction guides, manuals, and tutorials; all of which are practical in nature.
  • It contains no wild theories.
  • Every recommendation is doable by the intended audience.
  • The examples are realistic and representative of what the reader is likely to encounter when needing the toolset provided.
  • The language is practical, e.g., "toolset."

A possible criticism of this book is it doesn't give you a "best practices" formula that any idiot can follow. If it did, it wouldn't be a book about thinking. So people who are looking for some 10-step system that they can implement without having to think are just out of luck. Personally, I consider this "defect" to be a huge plus. Many books on management, leadership, problem-solving, and similar topics are reductionist in what they actually cover, surrounding the "meat" of the book with long forays into the author's non-expertise based opinions on unrelated topics. In Think Smarter, you find that Kellet focused on helping the reader to develop thinking skills and to develop the ability to apply those skills in a practical manner.

That last part is, er, critical. You can be the smartest person in the room but if you're not in tune with the situation you may have zero effect. Kallet provides many examples of how to apply critical thinking in a practical manner when you are part of a team. Rather than, for example, assert that the other person is wrong a more effective technique is to ask that person why he reached his particular conclusion. This can stimulate conversation that leads to better outcomes.

Kallet has an accessible, engaging writing style. It is clear from how he writes that he has mentored other individuals. It is also clear that he is confident in his knowledge, because he uses simple language rather than trying to puff himself up with needless verbal complexity. So I found this book enjoyable in addition to being informative.

But what about the content? Does Kallet really know what he's talking about? Or is this just a mental version of the many diet books that don't offer workable solutions? First, Kallet does have real-world experience. He runs a decade-old company that trains business leaders in critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. That's a pretty good indication he's an expert.

I give his information two thumbs-up, but does my opinion mean anything? I had quite an impressive track record as a plant engineer, wrote the Mindconnection problem-solving course, write a regular column on troubleshooting (for a trade magazine), and publish a brainpower newsletter twice a month. So, yeah, if I like what somebody says about thinking methodology that's probably a good endorsement.

Now, here's one more thing to consider. Most people simply do not think, and that has serious implications.

Thinking is a purposeful endeavor, and most of us are on auto-pilot. All the time. That's due to several reasons, including chronic sleep deprivation (rare is the individual who gets adequate sleep, according to the Sleep Institute). But maybe the main reason is few of us get the training needed to enable us to think in a systematic way. So the results of thinking (improperly) are no better than the results of not thinking at all. Thus, not bothering with thinking is the better choice because it takes less effort.

This book solves that problem for you, by showing you how to think both competently (get the right answer) and effectively (make the solution happen). The effort you put out for thinking will pay off, thus making it worth doing.

Really good thinkers in the USA are maybe 8% of the population. Suppose we could flip that ratio around, so really good thinkers are 92%.

Would the crooks who currently get "voted" into office be able to get elected in nation of thinkers? Nope. Would we have an IRS terrorizing the populace while pretending to have something to do with funding the government? Nope. Would the national debt have increased 80% in just five years (starting in January, 2009)? Nope. Would unemployment be at its current level of 51% in the USA (that is the actual number, as only 49% of working age adults have jobs)? Nope. Thinking doesn't solve every ill, but the major problems we have today have resulted from a profound failure to think at all.

On a personal level, just look back at poor decisions you have made. What if you had been able to think your way to good decisions, instead? How would this ability be life-changing, going forward?

Competent thinking can pay off not just for the individual, but for society as a whole. If you purchase this book and incorporate what Kallet teaches, you will be part of the solution. Think about THAT for a while.

This book consists of an introduction and 34 short chapters spanning 207 pages. This book is worth reading from cover to cover. But when you're done, keep it around as a reference and go back to it every so often to see where you can improve. You'll be glad you did. Better yet, buy a second copy for a a friend and make a point of co-mentoring each other on thinking better. Just have a 30-minute phone call on a regular basis (e.g., twice a week) to share your success stories and your "oops moments."

 

 


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