PocketMod

Here’s a really useful little tool that just makes your life easy.

The PocketMod is a small book with guides on each page. These guides or templates, combined with a unique folding style, enable a normal piece of paper to become the ultimate note card.

To me it’s also a wonderful example of simplicity in design. Stripping out everything that is non-essential we end up with a product that is simple and that maximizes function. For all productivity buffs and organizational freaks out there, this is something really cool.

Check out the PocketMod site and build your own PocketMod.

Meeting With Self

Just the other day I was talking to a friend and sort of complaining about how I seem to have lost my grip on my calendar… again. This tends to happen from time to time, but this time I was feeling like I couldn’t even find the time to get my ideas in order and have some free, creative thinking time.

Well, my friend just smiled sympathetically.

“Quite common. It happened to me as well.” he said as a matter-of-fact. “What I do is take notes of things that interest me throughout the week. I don’t make any assumptions about the things I note, just try to put them down factually. To go through all those notes, I scheduled a two hour weekly meeting with myself. It’s a recurring appointment and I try to choose a different environment than the office. That way I’m generally not interrupted.”

I didn’t give it much thought then. In fact, two days had gone by before I recalled the conversation and decided to try it.

First thing I did was book a weekly two hour slot in my calendar.

“Let’s see how long I can make this last.” I told myself as I hit the save button.

A few weeks have passed since then and I’ve managed to keep holding my weekly “meeting with self”. I’m also becoming much more proficient in taking (meaningful/useful) notes (mind-maps help a lot) and have already quite a collection of interesting ideas to explore and follow on. Also, some of these ideas have already started to pay off as I’ve been able to incorporate them into some of the projects I’m currently working on.

Designer and creative thinker Stefan Sagmeister also suggests an interesting approach to work-life balance and how to find time for creative thinking. His approach is a bit more radical, but I guess creative types usually are. Stefan’s approach involves taking a year long sabbatical leave to think and try new and different things. During this year, he collects ideas to fuel his work for the next seven years, before taking another leave. You can see Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on The Power Of Time Off in the Videos section.

Having time to think, sort out ideas, throw away those that are not interesting and focus on the ones that are is a precious commodity nowadays. Don’t count on having time “later” to do everything you need to do. Book the time in you calendar. That way everything else just tends to fit together.


Did you know?

A very interesting, insightful and inspirational video on preparing students (and everyone of us) for the challenges of the XXI century.

The presentation is filled with interesting insights on the value of information and it’s rate of adoption, which is fundamental for all of us, who are fundamentally knowledge workers, to understand.

Too Many Hats

hats Ever felt like you were wearing too many hats? Doing too many different things at the same time?

If you do then you know it’s not that easy to step into someone else’s shoes nor try to look at any given topic from different angles.

The Six Thinking Hats® (6TH) method is an analysis technique that helps us to look at a given topic from different perspectives. The usefulness of this approach is that you get a more complete and thorough view on the subject and you often spot issues and discover new approaches that you’d usually miss.

6TH is very effective when multiple participants are involved. In these situations there’s a tendency for people to argue their own point of view. 6TH helps by shifting the focus from argumentation to collaboration, as all participants wear the same hat at any given moment, effectively looking at the issue under discussion from the same point of view.

Reading the book I followed the SQ3R technique and listed the questions I would like to have answered by the time I finished the book.

Here are some of the questions I wrote down after I surveyed the book’s contents:

  • What are the six thinking hats?
  • What does each hat represent?
  • How do I use this technique?
    • Individually
    • In a collaborative environment?
  • How does this relate to parallel thinking?
  • How does it relate to lateral thinking?

Getting to Know the Six Thinking Hats®

The 6TH method is a parallel thinking method and as such, it exposes all sides of the topic under analysis. Under western thinking, if two people disagree on an issue they discuss it trying to have their point of view prevail.

Using parallel thinking, if two people disagree on an issue, their points of view are both exposed in parallel. By looking at the multiple angles of the issue, any inconsistencies can be resolved or fused/merged together into the final solution to the problem.

Edward de Bono proposes using multi-colored hats as a way to represent different points of view. By wearing a hat of a given color, you are prompted to condition your thinking to that particular point of view or frame of mind.

So, what are the 6TH?

  • White Hat – represents neutrality and objectivity. The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures;
  • Red Hat – represents emotion. The white hat represents the emotional view;
  • Black Hat – represents caution. The black hat identifies the weaknesses in an idea;
  • Yellow Hat – represents positive thinking. The yellow hat identifies positive points in an idea;
  • Green Hat – represents creativity. The green hat represents the generation of new ideas;
  • Blue Hat – represents control. The blue hat is responsible for organizing the thinking process and for the use of the other hats.

Edward de Bono lays out some ground rules for the use of each hat. However, the golden rule is that only one hat can be under analysis at any given time – this is what changes the focus from discussion to cooperation.

Since I usually learn more by asking questions and trying to find the answers to them than by using any other strategy, I have compiled a small list of questions that I find suitable for each hat:

Hat Questions
White Hat
  • What are the facts and figures?
  • What information do we have?
  • What information do we need?
  • What information is missing?
  • What questions do we need to ask?
  • Red Hat
  • What’s your gut reaction?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • Black Hat
  • Why can’t we do this?
  • What are our obstacles?
  • What’s the downside?
  • Yellow Hat
  • How can we do this?
  • What are our leverages?
  • What’s the upside?
  • Green Hat
  • What are additional opportunities?
  • What are additional angles?
  • Blue Hat
  • How should we think about this?
  • How shall we plan our thinking?
  • What’s the best way to use our hats?
  •  

    Using the Six Thinking Hats®

    Another question I had was related to how the 6TH method could (or should) be used in practice. Here’s how I have tried to apply this method personally:

    • Blue starts;
      • State the issue / approach / theme under discussion and the goal for the meeting;
    • Decide on the approach based on the session’s goals;
    • Analyze the topic from the perspective of each hat
      • Use the questions above as a template / guideline;
      • Only one hat can be under analysis at any given moment in time;
    • Continuously validate your strategy (Blue Hat evaluates if the defined approach is still working)
      • Is the team making progress?
      • Should we keep to the approach or does it make sense to switch to a different hat?
      • Should we return to an already used hat to further explore that angle?

    The Six Thinking Hats® is an interesting multi-dimensional approach to problem analysis and decomposition. I find it particularly useful for creative problem solving and as a way to make brainstorming sessions more productive.

    Mind-Mapping

    I clearly remember that one of the things I usually felt throughout my student years (high-school and college mostly) was that somehow the notes I took weren’t quite effective. At times it felt that I almost had to write down everything word for word so I didn’t loose any valuable piece of information – everything seemed important and I had a hard time identifying key concepts and ideas and jotting down just the relevant pieces of information that allowed me, later on, to mentally rebuild the whole idea. I eventually toyed with the idea of learning shorthand, but fortunately I eventually found out about mind-mapping.

    I have been using mind-mapping regularly for several years and it immediately felt a very natural and easy way to persist information in a way that I could trace it’s flow from one idea to the next, allowing me to recall information at a much deeper level. At the same time, note taking required much less granular notes.

    Today, after some years of practice, I find that mind-mapping not only helps me effectively with note taking, it also helps with creative problem solving. I use it for solo and team brainstorming sessions, whenever I am exploring any new subject.

    Creating a mind-map is quite simple:

    1. Get a clean sheet of paper (I usually use plain white paper – no lined or squared paper) and write the topic you’re exploring in the center of the page inside a large circle. This helps clearly identify the subject;
    2. As you explore the subject, write notes on lines that originate from the circle;
    3. As you explore deeper, draw new lines linked to the line with the note that originated the new ideas. This way it’s very easy to persist a line of thinking (and remember it later on);

    I have seen mind-maps where there are few notes and each branch is just a heading/subheading organization with the final branches (the ones furthest from the main topic) representing the facts, but I prefer a more free-form where each branch represents an idea. I usually take a lot of notes as I explore the topic further and further.

    Having used mind-mapping for a number of years now, I find it an indispensable tool for note taking whether I’m exploring possible solutions to a specific problem or whether I’m just studying any given subject.

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