Thinking Tools


The tool approach to thinking

The tools method is simple, but it is very important to understand exactly what is meant by it.

  1. The method involves crystallising certain aspects of thinking into definite tools. They are called tools because they can be used in different situations. The tools are independent of the content of what is being thought about.
  2. The tools are neutral - they do not give right answers or wrong answers You can look in a direction and see something. or look in that direction and see nothing; what matters is that you are looking in that direction. You can use a hammer to knock in nails or break a shop window: knowing that a hammer exists is what matters.
  3. Each tool stands on its own. They are not part of an interlinked hierarchical system. Like tools on a workbench, they are independent, but can be used in a co-ordinated manner to achieve a specific purpose.

In practice, each Thinking lesson is based on a definite tool. In fact, there is always a double tool.

The first tool is easy and its function is to make the second tool necessary. For instance, the first tool may simply involve asking the deliberate question: Where do I start? Once that question has been asked, then the second tool becomes necessary; examining the type of situation and deciding where one wants to end up. Definite tools of this type are far more effective than exhortation, which has little lasting effect and even less transfer effect.

You can acknowledge exhortation with good intentions, but these are not much use until crystallised in a definite form. At first it must seem that the lesson tools are very deliberate and artificial. It will seem that they simply spell out what tends to be done anyway, and hence are superfluous. That purpose is to separate the tool from its result. This is essential in the teaching of thinking if drift is to be avoided.

The process is very much like training in sports. You could put novice players on a tennis court and tell them to hit a crosscourt backhand to land within one foot of the other baseline. You could yell at them whenever their shots went out of court, over the sidelines, dropped short or did not even cross the net. This is teaching by results and is only applicable at a very late stage. The tools method is different. It is not concerned with the results, but simply with exercising the tool.

Using this method, the players would first get onto the court and swing a racket about a bit. Then they would try to hit the ball - anywhere. Then they would try to hit it consistently. Next they would try to get it exactly where they wanted it. Finally they might improve their style. At each stage, the important thing would be to carry out the tool. In some of lessons for instance, it is more important that the student deliberately try to carry out an analysis than carry out an excellent analysis. A number of headings were deliberately set up to enable students to become more sharply and consciously aware of certain directions (factors, objectives, consequences, points of view) in which to move their attention.

So the first tool is to say to oneself, "I am now looking for consequences” or "I am now doing a C&S."The heading is Consequence and Sequel. Once that can be said deliberately then the second tool is to discover what one saw by looking in that particular direction. In this way, the first ten lessons attempt to widen a student's thinking by setting up a number of different directions in which they can direct their attention. Such tools produce more thinking about a matter by providing more to look at. These general tools are a form of structure, but it is an "opportunity structure" (like a hammer, cup, ladder, key) and not a "constraining structure" (like a track, room, cage).

Learn how to use the thinking tools in Dr. de Bono's Perception course