Join me in the campaign to eliminate prejudice against messy thinking tactics.
Floating in the back of many people’s minds is the idea that “logical” means “neat.” People sometimes hesitate to make a list unless they can write down the items in their proper order. They sometimes shy away from brainstorming because silly ideas come up.
But this is an illogical prejudice, and it can stop thinking in its tracks. It confuses the desired end (a neat solution) with the means (a logical process–which may be messy).
Now, of course, neat is better than messy. Therefore, if you can write down a list in the correct order on your first try, do so. But if you hesitate for more than two seconds over the order, it will be faster if you make a quick, messy, no-particular-order list. Then you easily can figure out the proper order on a second pass.
It is logical to use the 2-pass method, because it is more efficient. If you wait until you can put down the items in the right order from scratch, you may stare at the page for a long time.
Similarly, if you already have a great idea to pursue, you have no need to brainstorm. But if you are still looking for that great idea, the messy process of brainstorming can help stimulate a variety of ideas, from which you can cull one good idea to pursue on a second pass.
Messy isn’t better than neat, it’s a means to neat. Consider the process of organizing a closet. The first step is to take everything out and spread everything out on the floor. Messy, very messy. But this temporary disorder gives you elbow room and a bird’s-eye view, so you can more easily decide what to keep, what to throw out, and where you will put everything back so that the end result is neat.
When you can’t go straight to a neat solution in your own thinking, all it means is that you don’t have a prepackaged, worked-out answer to your question. But that doesn’t mean you can’t figure out an answer, if you give yourself permission to rummage a little through the information you do have.
So, if you ever feel stuck looking for a neat answer, don’t let an old prejudice get in your way. Give yourself the logical advice to generate a messy first answer, knowing that later you will clean it up and turn it into a neat, logical, final answer.
Note: I teach more about this in Thinking Tactics. I’m on a mission to teach people the psycho-epistemological tools that make logical thinking faster and less frustrating.