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A Guide to Thinking a three-part series


a three-part series

by Chuck Gazzolli

Part 2: A Stepped-up Guide to Thinking

We all think about a lot of things, but most of it is driftwood, so to speak. Thoughts drift in and out of our minds with little conscious input or direction from us. Yet, at times, we do take control and consciously direct our thoughts. But do you ever think about thinking? “Thinking about thinking” is called metathinking or metacognition.

What does someone think about when they’re thinking about thinking? Well typical questions could include, “What are the various styles and types of thinking and how do they affect the outcome? Are some types more effective than others, or more appropriate in different circumstances? What are the barriers to effective thinking?”

Thinking about thinking, or metathinking, is similar to brain gymnastics or neurobics (mental exercises). That is, it’s good for us. Besides, as the seventeenth century French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, taught, “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.” And if we want to use it well, don’t we have to think about thinking?

Examples of Types of Thinking


1.Positive Thinking

Positive thinkers look at the bright side of life. It is not wishful or Pollyannaish thinking, but pragmatic. Positive thinkers understand that anything can be seen as good or bad. It all depends on how we choose to view it. How does endless complaining, blaming, criticizing, or worrying help? It doesn’t. On the contrary, it merely leads to disease, depression, and failure. But those who choose to focus on the positive are happy, healthy, and successful. Positive thinking makes sense because it works.

Recently an acquaintance and I were discussing steps we could take to improve our lives. He told me that he often gets angry with his 8-year-old son, and he wants to do something about it.

I replied, “What a wonderful opportunity! Admit to your son that you sometimes unfairly criticize him. Tell him when you do so; he must feel hurt and upset. Tell him you are sorry and ask him to forgive you. And after he does, explain that you are not perfect, and some day in the future, you may slip up and unfairly criticize him again. But when you do so, you want him to hold out his hand, palm facing you, as a signal to STOP. And when he does that, you promise to immediately stop and apologize.”

My acquaintance’s ‘problem’ is a wonderful opportunity because if he carries out the above steps, he will be teaching his son that we can confess our mistakes and apologize. He will also be teaching him how to forgive others and accept their apologies. And by explaining that his son can signal him to stop, he has empowered his son, who no longer needs to worry about future outbursts. In fact, his son may even look forward to being unjustly criticized, just so he can practice his new power (“STOP daddy!). All of this will draw father and son closer together, creating greater intimacy. So, my acquaintance’s ‘problem’ turned out to be a beautiful gift.

The purpose of this true story is to demonstrate how positive thinkers behave. You see, positive thinkers find a solution to every problem, but negative thinkers find a problem with every solution.

2.Optimal Thinking

Positive thinkers ask, “How can I get MORE from life?” 

Optimal thinkers ask, “How can I get the MOST from life. 

Positive thinkers ask, “How can I get BETTER results?” 

Optimal thinkers ask, “How can I get THE BEST result?” 

To learn more about Optimal Thinking, read, Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self by Rosalene Glickman. 


3.Analytical or Scientific Thinking

The purpose of analytical thinking is to make good decisions. When dealing with a problem, possible causes of the problem are studied, and then facts are gathered and analyzed with the hope of arriving at a solution. For example, if farmers in a particular region find that their yield has dropped by 30%, a horticulturist will first try to determine the possible cause(s) of the problem. Was the poor harvest due to inferior soil, drought, pollution, or insects? If insects were the cause, research on how to eliminate the threat would be conducted, and this could lead to a decision to spray the crops with a pesticide.

4.Systems Thinking

This type of thinking was developed by MIT professor Jay Forrester. In it, the relationships of the object of investigation are compared to the relationships of all other objects in the system. For instance, in the above example, analysts studied the relationships of crops, insects, and pesticides. But they did not study the relationships of insects to insects, and pesticides to environment. And their limited investigation led them to believe the solution was to spray the crops with pesticide.

However, systems thinking does a much more complete survey. Not only does it study, in this case, the relationship of insects to crops, but insects to everything else as well. For instance, an insect that was believed to be the primary cause of crop destruction also eats other insects as well. And the insects it feeds on do more crop damage than it does. So, if the crops are sprayed, more, not less damage, will result because the pesticide kills the insect that feeds on the more destructive ones.

5.Innovative or Creative Thinking

While analytical thinking examines many possibilities, it zeroes in on one solution, but innovative thinking does the opposite. It starts with one possibility and explodes it into a huge number of possibilities. Brainstorming is a typical example.

Are you in management and would you like to create a work environment in which innovative thinking will flourish? Goran Ekvall, professor emeritus of organizational psychology at the University of Lund, Sweden has come up with this list of the nine characteristics of a workplace that encourages innovative thinking.

a) Challenging. A challenging environment is not boring, but stimulating; there’s lots of problems (opportunities) to grapple with and dig one’s teeth into.

b) Unrestrained. Workers are not shackled with reams of rules and regulations that monitor their every activity. They are free to work in their own style as long as they get the job done.

c) Relaxed. In a high-pressure environment, workers are under stress and do not have time to think things through. Stress and creative thinking are incompatible.

d) Receptive. New ideas and fresh ways of looking at things are welcome by both management and peers.

e) Open. Workers trust one another and feel safe speaking their minds and offering different points of view. They count on each other for professional and personal support.

f) Playful. Workers are not only relaxed, but having fun. They don’t hesitate to joke and laugh. They are energized.

g) Harmonious. Workers get along with one another. They cooperate and feel like members of a team. They accept their differences and willingly compromise when necessary.

h) Lively. Workers freely debate the pros and cons of all issues. They argue not for the sake of argument, but for the purpose of resolving issues for the benefit of all.

i) Tolerant. The organization tolerates uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace. Workers are willing to go out on a limb and share their ideas with management and peers. They are not afraid of taking a risk, which we all must do when trying something new.

6.Critical Thinking

While analytical thinking is associated with science, critical thinking is often linked to philosophy (especially logic) and education. It consists of asking questions, defining problems, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, considering other possibilities, and staying away from emotional reasoning and oversimplification. It deals with gathering, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information. A special feature of critical thinking is that it evaluates itself while it is taking place.

7. Magical Thinking

While people of faith may adhere to beliefs without evidence, magical thinkers go so far as to rigidly hold on to a belief even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Since magical thinking can be part and parcel of religion, I will give an example of a young mother who threw her two small children into February’s freezing waters of the Columbia River near Pasco and Kennewick Washington. I’m not trying to attack [her religious beliefs] in particular or religion in general, but illustrating how magical thinking can lead to disastrous results.

The problem with magical thinking is those who accept it abrogate their mind and allow someone else to do their thinking for them.

Next month: Part 3: Barriers to Successful Thinking

Reprinted with permission.

© Chuck Gallozzi
For more articles and contact information,



Full-Spectrum Thinking: How to Escape Boxes in a Post-Categorical Future by Bob Johansen

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird

Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models By Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann

Mental Models: 30 Thinking Tools that Separate the Average from the Exceptional By Peter Hollins

Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind by James J Mapes


The Value of Systems Thinking

Meta-Thinking: How to Develop an Accurate Worldview

A Little film about a Big Idea: Meta Thinking

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