Monday, January 25, 2010

Analytical vs Intuitive Thinking

Roger Martin's book The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage outlines the difference between analytical and intuitive thinking.

Martin explains the two kinds of thinking:


No good product was ever created from quantitative market research. Great products spring from the heart and soul of a great designer, unencumbered by committees, processes, or analyses. To proponents of this philosophy, the creative instinct - the unanalyzed flash of insight - is venerated as the source of true innovation. At the heart of this school is intuitive thinking is the art of knowing without reasoning.
Martin doesn't suggest that one is necessarily more important than the other, but that both serve important purposes, depending on your objectives, and that a balance must be found between the two. He explains:



Neither analysis nor intuition alone is enough. Rather than forcing a binary choice to drive out either analysis or intuition, the burdon of this book is to reconcile the two modes of thought.

Today's educational accountability policies are woefully imbalanced - we have an obsessive focus on analytical thinking. Phrases like 'data driven decisions' and measuring learning through very limited kinds of testing have contributed to a gross ignorance toward intuitive thinking.

The costs of this ignorance is becoming more and more evident. Roger Martin goes on to say that:


Organizations dominated by analytical thinking are built to operate as they always have; they are structurally resistant to the idea of designing and redesigning themselves and their business dynamically over time. They are built to maintain the status quo.
Analytical thinking, which harnesses two familiar forms of logic - deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning - to declare truths and certainties about the world. The goal of this model is mastery through rigorous, continously repeated analytical process. Judgement, bias, and variation are the enemies. If they are vanquished, the theory goes, great decisions will be made and great value will be created.



When school gets stuck in the status quo, we run the risk of preparing our childrens' future for only our own past - we end up teaching 21st century children inside a 20th century model.

So how do we subscribe to more intuitive thinking?

We have to trust teachers.

Our current demands for more and more standardized curriculum, standardized assessment and standardized instruction are an attempt to 'teacher-proof' education.

A doctor would never take a patient's temperature over and over again - hoping that the act of measuring would bring the patient's temperature down. At some point, the doctor has to stop measuring and take care of the patient. Now put a gun to that doctor's head and demand he do something about the patient's temperature; he might resort to placing the patient in a tub of ice.

Because today's teachers are so inundated with the 'need' to measure students, they don't have the necessary time or resources to properly take care of their students. And because high-stakes testing has placed so much pressure on teachers to show achievement, some have resorted to short-term solutions that simply cure the symptoms (low scores) and ignore the real problem (learning or lack of).

A doctor wouldn't send home an obviously sick patient simply because all of the tests came back saying there was nothing wrong with the patient. The doctor can intuitively see that his analytical tests have not properly served their purpose. Instead, the doctor refuses to be a slave to his analytical reasoning and pursues what he intuitively know to be true.

The excessive dependence on analytical thinking has deprofessionalized teachers. They have been stripped of their confidence to resist becoming slaves to the tests. Teachers no longer feel like they can pursue what they intuitively know to be true - that is, there is something wrong with our current day narrow measures of learning.

And our children are suffering because of it.

1 comment:

  1. You make an excellent point here, in fact I would venture to say that in many case intuitive knowledge and reasoning are more important and applicable in real-world situations than most forms of analytical thinking. An example would be on-the-fly judgement calls. Someone who has only had numbers, statistics, and given 'facts' to make decisions will find themselves at a loss in an unforeseen situation such as a project hiccup or an office teamwork issue.
    While analytical thinking does have its advantages, it seems that it is a style of thinking that leads to stagnation and rote memorization. Lists and numbers are best reserved for computers methinks.

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