Clear Thinking - The Business Experience



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Clear Thinking Case Study






... and a trial jury fails at Concept Thinking

“Are YOU a Clear Thinker?  98% of visitors to our exhibition stand failed our Clear Thinking Test” 

We challenged visitors to take a one-minute test in Clear Thinking at a Learning Technologies exhibition at London. We took a stand at the show to promote our training courses in Flexible, Clear Thinking. To our surprise, only two out of more than 100 visitors provided clear answers within 60 seconds on a simple question to define commonly used words and phrases.

This test proved two important points. First: Clear Thinking is not as easy as most people believe. Second: Concept Thinking, ie thinking about and articulating a concept, is something many people find unfamiliar and difficult, despite this Thinking Style being fundamental to clear thinking and innovation.

These points were graphically illustrated in the famously collapsed Vicky Pryce (speeding points) court trial in London. The jury was dismissed because they were unable to understand key legal concepts such as ‘reasonable doubt’, ‘burden of proof’, ‘inference’, and ‘speculation’.              

Key points

“How do YOU Think?”

“Are you a Clear Thinker?”

These were some of the stand messages that attracted visitor’s attention and interest. We showed a large image of the brain divided into the four quartiles of whole-brain thinking: Visionary, Reasoning, Task, and People Thinking. The horizontal axis was labelled ‘Left’ and ‘Right’; the vertical axis ‘Thinker’ and ‘Doer’ - as shown in our website section on Clear Thinking.

Most people are interested in their own personal ‘Styles’, whether of Leadership, Personality, or of how they think. And when we asked visitors if they thought they were Clear Thinkers their typical response was “Yes, I like to think so”.

“Dare YOU take our one-minute Test in Clear Thinking?”



More than 100 visitors rose to our challenge to provide a clear answer to a simple ‘Can you define’ question on a word or phrase in common use. We asked each to define a common concept such as ‘Technology’, ‘Design’, ‘Time’, ‘a Concept’, or ‘Clear Thinking’. 

Much to their surprise, and to ours, only two people out of over 100 provided a clear definition, as might be seen in a dictionary, of these ‘simple’, well-known concepts. Nobody gave a clear explanation of Clear Thinking, despite most visitors claiming that they were clear thinkers!

 Even in court
Clear Thinking may not be much in evidence.

How a judge defined ‘Reasonable Doubt’

The first Vicky Pryce ‘speeding-points’ trial was abandoned because the judge felt that the jury had shown “fundamental deficits of understanding”. After some deliberation the jury had come back and asked the judge to define crucial legal concepts such as ‘reasonable doubt’, ‘burden of proof’, ‘inference’, and ‘speculation’. After further deliberation the jury admitted that they could not reach a decision and the trial was abandoned. 

The judge clearly did not help the jury as much as it needed. Apparently he was bound by law to define ‘reasonable doubt’ as “a doubt that is reasonable. These are ordinary English words.”


Analysis and Lessons

Concept Thinking … Concepts … Thinking Style … Visionary … Reasoning …  Task … People Thinking … Clear Thinkers … Metacognition … Flexible, Clear Thinking … Why Strategies, Plans, Projects, Innovations, and Communications GO WRONG … Balanced Teams/Juries … Analytical Thinking

Clear Thinking is not as easy as people think


This was the first conclusion of our Clear Thinking Test at the exhibition. Visitors were mainly involved in the field of Training and Development and working for organisations as large as FT-100 companies and the military. Most visitors were convinced that they were clear thinkers but were taken aback when we revealed what a clear answer should be. Nobody disputed the validity of our test and most completed the test within the time allowed.

Concept Thinking is tough for many people

.. but it is fundamental to Clear Thinking.

You need to understand concepts to be a Clear Thinker. 

The second purpose of our test was to check people’s understanding of, and skills in, Concept Thinking. This is one of the most important of all thinking skills (Thinking Styles) and is the very basis of Clear Thinking. Our premise is that if you struggle to explain something to others then you are not thinking clearly about it.

Most visitors struggled with these definitions because we asked them to define concepts. They even had difficulty defining what ‘a concept’ is. The reason is that people are not taught about concepts at school, and therefore most have never developed Concept Thinking abilities.

A prime example was one ‘answer’ defining the concept of ‘Time’. The visitor connected Time with human life, but of course time began well before humans occupied the world.

Metacognition. The key to successful Strategies and Plans … and Clear Thinking

It was also evident that few visitors had even heard of the concept of Metacognition: thinking about how you are thinking and how you should be thinking – the basic requirement for Flexible, Clear Thinking. Our research on Why Strategies, Plans, Projects, Innovations, and Communications GO WRONG found that the lack of Metacognition was one of the key causes of failure. Teams were not aware of how they were thinking (ie which Thinking Style they were engaging/stuck in) and blundered into making costly thinking errors without realising it – until it was too late.

A jury’s non-understanding of ‘simple’ concepts

The abandoned Pryce trial has raised the issue of ‘fitness for purpose’ of particular juries and even whether their (mental) capabilities should be assessed in advance. But we feel that there are at least two important issues at stake here. The need for explanation of legal concepts and procedures, and the need for a check on the ‘Balance’ of a jury in terms of their Thinking Style preferences.

There must be concern about people’s ability to understand not-so-simple legal concepts, such as ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ and the difference between ‘inference’ and ‘speculation’. A study in 2010 found that two thirds of jurors did not understand what judges told them about the law before they retired to consider their verdicts. Without adequate definitions of concepts it is hardly surprising that jurors can be confused and verdicts be incorrect.

A Balanced Jury?

All teams or groups need a good balance of preferred Thinking Styles.

As in any team or group decision-making situation, the ability to reach a correct decision will depend on having a good balance of the four quartiles of whole-brain thinking, ie Visionary, Reasoning, Task, and People Thinkers. It may well have been the case at the first Pryce trial that the jury lacked Reasoning Thinkers and Visionary Thinkers. This would seriously have affected the groups ability to understand legal concepts based on Reasoning.

For example, you need a degree of reasoning skills even to work out the difference between ‘inference’ and ‘speculation’. Indeed, ‘inference’ implies the use of reason (Analytical Thinking) to reach a conclusion. Jurors must analyse the data to seek a suitable explanation of events. ‘Speculation’ implies that insufficient data exists to provide the basis of a rational conclusion.

Some peoples’ strengths do not lie in such thinking – they are called Doers. To minimise the risk of costly thinking errors all teams or groups need a Balance of Thinkers and Doers, and of Left-Brains and Right-Brains.


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