Book summary: Pragmatic Thinking & Learning (II)

This is the second part of my summary of Andy Hunt’s “Pragmatic Thinking & Learning”. See the first part on this blog. This part will cover chapters ”Get in Your Right Mind”, “Debug Your Mind” and ‘‘Learn Deliberately”.

Get in Your Right Mind

A good way to involve your brain more is to use more senses than usual. For tactile you can use building blocks like Lego, CRC cards, etc. Example of “role-playing” a software design on p. 77. The advantage of using the R-mode is not that it’s a panacea, it’s simply to use the other half of your brain too (reference to pair programming). Story of the climbing teacher on p. 81: the importance of feeling something first (R-mode) before learning it’s theory (L-mode), because it gives you the context to understand the theory and explanations better. Learning can be impeded by trying to memorise facts when you don’t grasp the whole yet. When creating, be comfortable with the absurd and impractical; when learning, get “used to it” before learning and memorising. Using metaphors can open up creativity because they communicate the R-mode and the L-mode (wordnet can help when creating metaphors).

Tip: the “morning pages” technique (p. 98). Write them first thing in the morning (before coffee, shower or anything else); write at least three pages by hand, without computer; do not censor what you write; do not skip a day. Blogging is also a good exercise (what you think about a topic, what you can defend publicly).

Tip: learn martial arts or yoga to improve concentration (p. 103). Tip: break small, daily routines (turn off the autopilot).

Forcing the brain to reconcile unlike patterns broadens the scope of material under consideration (see Zen koans and Greek oracles on p. 107). Reference to oblique strategies (has electronic versions, including an Android version!).

Debug Your Mind

We make decisions and solve problems based on faulty memory and our emotional state of the time, ignoring crucial facts, etc. Some cognitive biases: anchoring (ref: experiment with numbers and prices in predictably irrational), fundamental attribution error (other people behave based on their personality, we have excuses for our own behaviour; in reality, behaviour is often caused by the context), self-serving bias (“it’s my success”, but “it’s not my failure”; you’re always part of the system), need for closure (naturally uncomfortable with uncertainty; have to learn to live with it), confirmation bias, exposure effect (prefer familiar things), Hawthorne effect (people change when they’re being watched, but after a while they go back to how they were behaving), false memory (easy to confuse imagined events with real memories; every memory read is a write in light of the current context), symbolic reduction fallacy (L-mode is anxious to “symbol-away” complexity), nominal fallacy (thinking that labelling a thing means you understand it).

How to fight biases: understand that “rarely” doesn’t mean “never”, defer closure (you know the most about a project at the end of it, so don’t take decisions too early, be comfortable with uncertainty), remember that you don’t remember well. People are mainly a product of their environment and of the times. Explanation of different American generations on p. 125-131. In summary, generational archetypes are prophet (vision, values), nomad (liberty, survival, honor), hero (community, affluence) and artist (pluralism, expertise, due process). Realise where your thinking is coming from, what are your influences, and what kind of arguments you make. Try to have a diverse team so biases can catch/cancel each other. Myers Briggs Type Indicator discussion on p. 133-135. Trust intuition, but verify. If you think you have defined something, try to define the opposite.

Learn Deliberately

A single intense, out-of-context classroom event can only get you started in the right direction. You need continued goals, feedback to understand your progress and approach it far more deliberately than a once-a-year course.

For any goal (desired state, usually short-term) you have in mind you need a plan, a series of objectives (steps towards that goal). Objectives should be Specific (“learn Erlang” vs. “be able to write a web server in Erlang that dynamically generates content”), Measurable (how do you know when you’re done? related to “specific”. You don’t have to see where you’re going, just a couple of meters ahead of you), Achievable (from the current state!), Relevant (does it matter to you? is it under your control?) and Time-boxed (perhaps the most important: the deadline).

Create Pragmatic Investment Plans (PIP) to learn whatever you want to learn. Major point involving managing the plan:

  • Have a concrete plan: devise different levels of goals (now, next year, next five years).

  • Diversify: make an effort to choose different methodologies, languages, industries, and non-technical stuff.

  • Active investment: need to be able to evaluate your plan and realistically judge how’s going. Adapt/change the plan based on that.

  • Invest regularly: you need to make a commitment to invest a minimum of time on a regular basis. Create a ritual, if needed.

Other techniques, like mind maps, talk to the duck and learning by teaching are mentioned in this chapter, but I’m skipping them in the summary.

And this is the end of the second part of my summary. The next one will cover the rest of the book, namely chapters “Gain experience”, “Manage Focus” and “Beyond Expertise”.

EDIT: read the third part of this summary.