States of Thinking – Declarative

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 1 of 4.
Question:
Last week, you created a chart that appeared to break down various states of thinking related to levels of work. Your biggest distinction seemed to be from concrete (short time span) to conceptual (longer time span) levels of work. But you used specific labels to describe states of thinking at Strata Levels I-II-III-IV. Could you be more descriptive in these states.

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

Response:
When I look at work, I look at two things, the way people make decisions and the way people solve problems. That’s work.

Declarative State (I do declare!) describes the state of problem solving engaged in short time span problems. Something exists because it is declared to exist. In his most recent book, the Undoing Project, Michael Lewis describes the fallibility of such thinking, based on recency bias or vividness bias. Things get connected “just because.” There is an old wives tale that arthritis pain is connected to weather events. A study conducted by Amos Tversky, one of the subjects of Lewis’ book, demonstrates there is no statistical link between arthritis and the weather yet, “a single day of severe pain and extreme weather might sustain a lifetime of belief in a relation between them.”

Declarative State is a very disjunctive way of seeing the world. Connectivity is imagined, declared, without the requirement of supporting evidence. Given a problem to solve, a person engaged in a declarative state can see the problem, and can consider a small number of presented solutions. A declarative process would start with the most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution, without evidence of its probable effectiveness. Yet, if that solution does not immediately work, the declarative process simply moves to the next most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution. There is the old joke about looking for a set of dropped car keys, in the dark, down the street from the parked car. The person searches down the street, under the streetlight, because searching in the dark, next to the car is too difficult. This scientific process is known as trial and error.

And there are many problems that can be effectively and quickly solved through trial and error problem solving. And there are many people in S-I roles who can play through trial and error so quickly, their solutions appear astounding.

Until they wake up one morning and see the world in a whole new way, things are actually connected. They go from not being able to connect the dots to the next level state of thinking, cumulative. -Tom

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