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Six Rules for Better Thinking
A Reprise of Chapter 6 from Richard Weil's The Art of Practical Thinking
© Fred Nickols 2012
This article appeared in Performance
I spend many pleasant and profitable hours browsing the shelves in used-book stores. My search is usually for older books pertaining to management and business, but problem solving, too, holds my interest and, recently, I chanced upon a rather remarkable book, The Art of Practical Thinking. Written in 1940, the author, Richard Weil, Jr., was president of Bambergers at the time. He was generally and genuinely unimpressed with the quality of the thinking displayed by his contemporaries and acquaintances and hoped, through his book, to make some modest contribution toward improving the quality of thinking in general. Weil's concern about the quality of thinking was well founded. His book is instructive and rich in practical examples drawn from his experiences in the business world. Of particular interest to me is Chapter Six, where Weil set forth six general rules for better thinking. These rules are actually rules for solving problems. Weil's exposition is as timely and relevant today as when he first wrote it more than 50 years ago. So, without further ado, here are Richard Weil's six general rules for better thinking.
1. Establish immediately your best possible priority of problems.
2. State your problem.
3. Separate, as far as possible, all emotional influences from all rational processes, in the effort to obtain correct solutions.
4. State your situation with respect to data.
5. Observe a fixed sequence of acts in the handling of problems.
6. Estimate, as well as you can, the loss-gain factor in probable solutions, and plan in advance the course of action if the solution is unsuccessful.
Execution is Essential
Although tempted to add another general rule, Weil instead limited himself to pointing out that proper execution of the right solution is as essential to success as is finding the right solution. His concern stemmed from his observation that, in many cases, good solutions were often poorly executed, leading those involved to claim that the solutions, not their implementation, was at fault. This led, he believed, to a search for other solutions which, a priori, would be the wrong ones.
The "Appropriate and Required Processes of Solution"
Weil's six rules for better thinking were preceded by a discussion of six tools for use in thinking. It was to the proper use of these tools that the first of the eight acts above refers. These tools can be listed but not elaborated upon in a paper this brief. They are:
Weil defined thinking as "the process of arranging experience into patterns." Thus he argued, we cannot think about things we have not experienced. (Experience, by the way, need not be firsthand.)
Intuition, to Weil, was thinking at a subconscious level. Weil felt strongly that "trained intuition," that is, the intuition of a person who has worked hard at mastering the other tools of thinking, deserved its own status as a tool for thinking. But, in deference to his own insistence on careful classification, he allowed that trained intuition was more properly a subdivision of intuition.
Six rules and six tools. Such was the substance of Richard Weil's book. For my money, it belongs on every manager's desk or bookshelf, but only after it has been carefully read. In this regard, Weil offered up yet another piece of advice: He encouraged his readers to read Mortimer Adler's How to Read A Book, which I am doing and which I am able to do because it is still in print. I am sorry to report that Weil's book is no longer in print. But, as he said of the many books he summarized in the course of writing his book, "I think I have given you the gist of what the author had to say."
Weil, R. (1940). The Art of Practical Thinking. Simon and Schuster: New York.
This page last updated on June 27, 2015