Smart Thinking: A book review by Bob Morris

Smart ThinkingSmart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done
Art Markman
A Perigee Book/Penguin Group (2012)

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

I cite the Drucker observation because it correctly suggests that misdirected efficiency is worse than no effort at all. Why? The problem to be solved is certain to become even worse, if neglected. As I began to read Art Markman’s book, I was reminded of a passage from Judgment, a book co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis. In the first chapter, they assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”

Whatever its size and nature may be, every organization needs what Markman characterizes as “Smart Thinking” at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. That is, develop a culture within which everyone involved is prepared to solve new (i.e. unfamiliar) problems using the knowledge they possess including knowledge of where and how to obtain the additional information they may need. Decades ago, when responding to complaints about tuition increase at Harvard, Derek Bok observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” I agree, presuming to add that not knowing what you think you know but, in fact, don’t is perhaps the most damaging form of ignorance. According to Markman, “Smart Thinking is like chess. Even though it may seem like Smart Thinking must be some kind of talent, it is really a skill” and almost anyone can master it.

o James Dyson: How did he come up with the idea for his vacuum? (Pages 8-13)
o The Formula for Smart Habits (33-41)
o Changing [Bad] Habits (44-54)
o Seeing Less Thank You Expect to See (60-71)
o Help Others Use the Role of 3 (81-98)
Note: This refers to “three simple steps”: Prepare Pay Attention, and Review
o Fixing the Illusion of Explanatory Depth through Specific Thinking (110-118)
o Applying Your Knowledge (123-133)
o How Memory Works (159-162)
o A Language for Smart Thinking (174-177)
o Recommendations for Good Practice (186-192)
o Find New Solutions (195-198)
Note: In my opinion, this is one of the most insightful passages in the book. Re-read Drucker quote.
o Your Social Network and a Culture of Smart (207-210)
o Ten suggestions to create a “Culture of Smart” (210-229)

As Markman stresses at several points throughout his lively as well as informative narrative, Smart Thinking and intelligence are not the same. Whereas intelligence is defined as an inborn ability that determines how well you are going to be able to think, “Smart Thinking is really about the content of what you know and how you use it.” As quoted earlier, “Smart Thinking is like chess. Even though it may seem like Smart Thinking must be some kind of talent, it is really a skill” and almost anyone can master it.
Markman wrote this book so he could share whatever information, insights, and counsel anyone may need to become and then continue to be a Smart Thinker, feeding the brain with new knowledge of a very high quality.

As I read this book, I was again reminded of an observation by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This is what Markman has in mind in Chapter Two when explaining how and why creating Smart habits will change both attitude and behavior. He notes two aspects of habits that promote Smart Thinking: “The behaviors you perform habitually do not take up your precious cognitive resources” and “You do not have to create habits intentionally. They develop whenever there is a consistent mapping between your mental and physical environment and the behavior you want to carry out.”

Becoming a Smart Thinker is essential to personal growth and professional development, to be sure, but it is also essential to developing a Culture of Smart. Before concluding his book, Art Markman provides and discusses ten specific initiatives that will help to establish and then enrich such a culture. All great leaders are Smart Thinkers who seem to have a “green thumb” for “growing” those with whom they are associated. That is the challenge and (yes) the privilege that they eagerly embrace.

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