While some people get really good at hiding the turning of their gears, others need to collaborate. Some of us can paint canvases of ideas and extrapolate from the tiniest bit of information, out toward a grand plan or strategy. Others of us find details within the grand plan no one else would consider worth focusing on, and pull at the thread until the problem unravels into its tiniest constituent parts.
This extrapolation or reduction process can be seen, in part, to be a function of lateralization of brain function. Which camp most people fall into can be determined in part by their cognitive style – which side of their brain is dominant most often, and for which parts of their personal process.
Do I need to keep worrying about this?
Is what I’m working on finished? Was there an appropriate finish line to begin with? Do I know enough? Is this grade acceptable?
Left-brain-centric folks often take this track for learning. There’s process here – and it doesn’t mean ignorance of the importance of details. However, there’s also a lot of room for omission, where details are perceived to be unnecessary or do not immediately add a step down the path to completion. This can also lead to cognitive dissonance – a break in sequential logic where details perceived to relate directly to one another refuse to get along with process.
Left-brain logic is often subtractive, reducing problems to their most granular
Do I have all the details I need?
What’s the big picture? Do I know all the important bits? How will this affect everyone involved? How do I know what an acceptable grade is?
This holistic, detail-oriented style of creative problem solving is often attributed to right-brain-centric thinkers. Broadly, it fits the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition better than reductive reasoning – but may not be applicable to other, more framework based learning styles. These thinkers tend to be concerned with filling in the entire puzzle before solving the problem – as, many of them will say, once you have all the information, many problems solve themselves.
Right brain logic is additive – like building a jigsaw out of information to create patterns and finding symbolic meaning in groupings, rather than in single instances of data.
Both styles of learning are discovery processes, and are two sides of an important coin.
And – because I’m a right-brain-centric thinker, I feel the need to add that this is a sliding scale, not a pair of poles. It also doesn’t directly tie into personality type – those falling into the intuitive category on the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator may well be left-brain-centric, but express in a non-linear manner.
No matter your personal style or learning method, knowing and consciously playing toward your cognitive style can help you solve bigger problems faster.
Where do you fall on the extrapolative/reductive reasoning scale?
Photo by Yogendra Joshi.