A Model for Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

A few weeks back, we finished a book club session on Andy Hunt’s ‘Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware’1. I really enjoyed the read, it was filled with tips and tricks on how to use your brain more effectively, brought together visually with a Mind Map at the very beginning of the book. Although I felt that a lot of the content was relatively common sense, for me, there were enough new and interesting concepts that it kept me engaged right to the end.

I decided to leverage the content of the book to help me become more effective day-to-day. To that end, I’ll share some specific insights I gained from implementing the book’s ideas as well as a model I devised that made the content more accessible when I needed it, and helped it “stick”.

Insights on my own behaviour…

Although I’ve read a lot of advice over the years on how to improve my effectiveness, I was still pleasantly surprised with the number of tidbits spread throughout this book that led to ‘aha’ moments as I read. One such incident was realizing why I tend to walk around and fidget when thinking about hard problems. According to Andy Hunt’s reasoning, this is due to me activating other senses, and hence other parts of my brain, to help bring more resources to the problem at hand. At work, I used to prevent myself from pacing because I thought it looked silly. I didn’t realize until now that my brain was just trying to help itself solve the problem. Now I feel a lot less ‘silly’ for it and stop resisting the temptation (well, I’ll still be a bit discreet about it).

Although this insight on engaging more of the senses to solve a problem will stick with me, there are many other bits of advice that won’t, along with the general concepts of using your right brain, and keeping a balance between gaining experience and learning deliberately. It seemed that an improved, more memorable model could help me with this.

Trying to derive a better model for thinking and learning…

At the very core of another great habit-changing book, Stephen Covey’s ‘ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’2, was a simple visual model of the concepts conveyed in the book. It described and repeated the meat of the book so effectively that during the study group session, I was able to recite it entirely from memory on a whiteboard and speak to each item, even though I haven’t read the book in more than 15 years. I thought that if Hunt’s book had a similar model, it would help readers reference and retain the content more easily.

While trying to derive such a model, I was inclined to extend upon the computer metaphor, having two CPUs to represent left and right brain processing, both with synchronous access to memory. What came to mind was using software libraries to represent the various skills that we leverage day to day. Learning Deliberately and Gaining Experience, as Hunt has put it, can be considered creation and/or upgrading these libraries, thereby making us the developers of our own skill sets that can be leveraged in future ‘development’ efforts.

Here is my initial, very crude, drawing of the thinking:

Pragmatic Thinking

My final attempt at a better model for thinking and learning…

Through this work, I realized that skills development was very much at the centre of the book, that learning is more of a left-brain activity, and that gaining experience is a bit more to the right.  Furthermore, the Dreyfus model used by Hunt (moving from Novice to Advanced Beginner) posits not only that you can’t ‘level up’ without gaining experience (recall the point about how no matter how much a dancer studies dance, they can’t get better without applying that knowledge and gaining experience), but that deliberate learning effectively ‘rounds out’ your experience within a level of the Dreyfus model.  Lastly, the chapters of the book that talk about the brain, debugging the mind, and the journey, are supplemental to the actual activity of getting in the right mind, learning deliberately and gaining experience.

It was fun coming up with a new model of learning based on the material presented by Andy and as he says in the book, will help me retain and apply this knowledge. Here’s what I came up with:

Pragmatic Learning

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, am I way off base? Is there a more memorable way to take the same line of thinking?  What does your model look like?  Please let me know your thoughts at lee.mccallum@intelliware.com.

References

1 Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, Andy Hunt, https://pragprog.com/book/ahptl/pragmatic-thinking-and-learning

2 Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

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