February 18: Sequel Day

On this date in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States.  Since its publication, the language of Twain’s novel has sparked controversy, yet it remains a book unparalleled in its influence. Unlike other American novels of the time which were imitations of European literature, Huckleberry Finn was a truly American book, the first to be written in the American vernacular.  Twain’s revolutionary move was to give the narration of his book to the uneducated, unwashed Huck, who speaks in dialect and introduces himself in the novel’s famous first sentence:

Huckleberry Finn book.JPGYou don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another . . . .    

Ernest Hemingway praised Twain’s book, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ . . . . All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since.”  

Twain began writing his masterpiece in 1876, but after writing 400 pages he set it aside unfinished.  At one point Twain threatened to burn the unfinished manuscript, but luckily he took it out of his drawer and went back to work on it in 1882, finishing in August 1883.

Twain’s novel is so influential and so distinctive that some forget that it was a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).  It is the rare sequel that achieves the level of its predecessor, let alone eclipses it.  

In 1995, American novelist E.L. Doctorow highlighted the differences between the two books, pointing out that Twain’s motivation was to take on the issues of racism and slavery in his sequel — issues he had ignored in Tom Sawyer:

But Twain had to have understood, finally, that, in its celebratory comedy, his book [‘Tom Sawyer’] was too sentimental, too forgiving of the racist backwater that had nurtured him.  He had ignored slavery as if it hadn’t existed.  And after all was said and done his Tom Sawyer character was a centrist, a play rebel, who, like Twain, had been welcomed into the bosom of a ruling society he sallied against.

Today’s Challenge:   It Takes II to Tango

What are some examples of great sequels, great books or movies, that continue the story of an original book or movie?  Make your argument for the single sequel, book or movie, that you think is the best, and explain what makes the sequel so great.  See the list of examples below.  Don’t assume your reader has read the book or seen the movie. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Books:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

That Was Then, This Is Now  by S.E. Hinton

The Odyssey by Homer

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Movies:

The Color of Money

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

The Bourne Supremacy

Monsters University

The Matrix Reloaded

Quotation of the Day:  It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. -Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

February 1:  From News to Novel Day

Robinson Crusoe 1719 1st edition.jpgOn this date we celebrate two influential works of fiction, both influenced by actual events. The first was Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), a novel based on the real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued on this date in 1709.  

A black cover depicting a woman swimming and a shark coming towards her from below. Atop the cover is written "Peter Benchley", "Jaws" and "A Novel".The second work of fiction is the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, published on this date in 1974.  The idea for the book, Benchley’s first novel, began ten years earlier in 1964 when Benchley read a news story about a 4,550 pound Great White shark caught off the beaches of Long Island, New York. The brief news story sparked Benchley’s imagination:  “And I thought right then ‘What if one of these things came round and wouldn’t go away?’” (1).

The true story behind the fictional Robinson Crusoe begins in 1704.  Alexander Selkirk was a Sailing Master aboard the Cinque Ports, an English frigate fighting with Spanish vessels off the coast of South America.  When the captain of the Cinque Ports stopped at a desert island to re-stock supplies of freshwater, Selkirk refused to get back on board due to the ship’s less than seaworthy condition.  When the Cinque Ports left him behind, Selkirk hoped to quickly flag down another ship. This, however, was a more difficult task than he imagined.

Selkirk spent the next four years alone on the island, surviving primarily by hunting and eating goats, which were in plentiful supply on the island.  Unfortunately for Selkirk, rats were also in plentiful supply.  They would gnaw at his clothes and his feet as he tried to sleep.  To solve this problem, Selkirk domesticated several cats he found on the island, employing them to keep his campsite rat-free.

Finally, on February 1, 1709, Selkirk was rescued when two British ships spotted his signal fire. When the landing party came ashore, they were astonished by Selkirk’s appearance:  he looked like a wild man dressed from head to toe in goat skins.

In 1713 an account of Selkirk’s ordeal was published, and six years later, influenced by Selkirk’s adventures, Daniel Defoe published his novel Robinson Crusoe*.  Defoe’s book went on to become one of the most widely read books in history and is recognized today as the first work of realistic fiction.  Selkirk and Defoe also influenced world geography; in 1966 Mas a Tierra, the Pacific island which Selkirk inhabited for four years and four months, was renamed Robinson Crusoe.  A separate island, 100 miles west, has been renamed Alejandro Selkirk (2).

Like Defoe’s novel, the story of Jaws also follows an interesting path from fact to fiction.  The novel’s author Peter Benchley was working as a journalist in 1971 when he had lunch with a publisher from Doubleday.  They discussed Benchley’s book ideas which were all non-fiction.  At the end of the meeting, the publisher asked Benchley, who had never written fiction, if he had any ideas for a novel.  At that point, Benchley remembered the 1964 news story about the colossal shark caught off of Long Island.  He told the publisher,  “I want to tell the story of a Great White shark that marauds the beaches of a resort town and provokes a moral crisis.”

When Jaws was published on February 1, 1974, it made Benchley one of the most successful first-time novelists of all time.  The book spent 44 months on the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 20 million copies.  Benchley went on to co-write the screenplay for the book’s wildly successful film version; today the film Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, is recognized as the movie that invented the summer blockbuster.

Today’s Challenge:  All the Fiction That’s Fit to Print

What story from today’s newspaper could you adapt for a short story?  Select a story from a recent newspaper, and use the facts from the true story to spark your imagination.  Generate a central conflict from the true story that might be used in a fictional story, such as an individual fighting to survive alone on a desert island or a town struggling to survive attacks from a killer shark. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. -Albert Camus

*The complete original title of Defoe’s novel is:  The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

1-http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3400291.stm

2-http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/europe/oddities_europe.shtml

January 27: The Book of Qualities Day

On this day in 1984, J. Ruth Gendler published The Book of Qualities. In Gendler’s unique book she writes individual profiles of over 50 human emotions, using personification to bring each to life.  In Gendler’s book, we’re reintroduced to familiar emotions, like joy, innocence, and discipline — not just as abstract ideas, but as living, breathing individuals.  

Each of the profiles is an excellent reminder of the power of personification to enliven writing.  In our normal life, we don’t have the power to breathe life into inanimate objects.  When we write, however, he can wield this rhetorical superpower by employing personification.  With personification, it’s as if we’re putting arms and legs on an idea, allowing it to walk around the room.  We can even teach it to talk.

In the following examples, Gendler employs personification to introduce us to “Despair,” “Stillness,” and “Confidence.”   Notice how she employs specific action verbs and concrete nouns:

Despair papered her bathroom walls with newspaper articles on acid rain.

Stillness will meet you for tea or a walk by the ocean.

Confidence ignores “No Trespassing” signs.  It is as if he doesn’t see them.  He is an explorer, committed to following his own direction.

Today’s Challenge:  Abstractions in the Flesh

How would you bring an abstract human emotion to life using personification?  Write a profile of at least 60 words on one specific human emotion.  Use your imagination to explore what the emotion would look like, what kinds of things it would be doing, and what it might say if it could talk.  Select one of the qualities below from The Book of Qualities, or come up with one of your own.  

Anger, Beauty, Certainty, Doubt, Excitement, Fear, Guilt, Honesty, Imagination, Jealousy, Loneliness, Perfection, Suffering, Terror

Before you write your profile, read the following example.  It’s on humor; one quality that Gendler doesn’t write about in The Book of Qualities:

Humor is unpredictable.  He hides around corners and jumps out when you least expect him.  He’s optimistic, healthy, and smart. Never depressing or anxious, he thrives on the unsuspected and spontaneous.  He’s a great companion, constantly reminding you to loosen up, look at the bright side, and smile more often.  He loves to break up fights — when he’s around no one has the strength to make a fist.

Quotation of the Day:  There is no armor against fate; death lays his icy hands on kings. -Jane Shirley

1-Gendler, J. Ruth.  The Book of Qualities.  New York:  HarperPerennial, 1984.

January 21: Novel First Lines Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the first novel in America, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature. When the book was first released in 1789, it was published anonymously.  Later, however, William Hill Brown, a 24-year-old Bostonian, came forward to claim authorship.

Although the novel is not remembered today for its literary excellence, it is characteristic of its time.  Reflecting a popular 18th-century literary device, the novel was epistolary, that is, its story is told via letters between characters.  The novel involves an illicit love triangle and is written as a cautionary tale.  Some speculate that Brown published his novel anonymously because the details of his plot were based on actual events in the lives of his Boston neighbors.

Although there are certainly examples of long fiction that might be called novels before the 1700s, it was the 18th century that launched the popularity of this “new form” of extended narrative, best exemplified by the works of English writers Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.

Today’s Challenge:  Blackjack Sentences

How can you captivate a reader by writing a 21-word opening sentence of a short story or novel?  To celebrate America’s first novel on 1/21, your task is to craft a novel first line for a story that is exactly 21 words.  Think about a narrative hook that will grab your reader.  

Here’s an example:

At 7:10 am that Monday morning, Bill awoke to the choking sound of his cat, Hamlet, vomiting violently on his pillow.

There is nothing magical about 21 words, but writing to an exact word count will force you to pay attention to the impact of each word you write. It will also force you to pay careful attention as you revise and edit.  When you write the first draft of your sentence, don’t worry about word count.  Get some ideas and details down on paper first.  Then go back and revise, making every word count — up to exactly 21 (no more, no fewer).

The sentences below are some examples of opening sentences from American novels.  They are not 21 words, but they will give you a flavor for the ways different novelists have opened their works:

You may now felicitate me — I have had an interview with the charmer I informed you of. -William Hill Brown, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature.  (1789)

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. —Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.  -Jane Austen

1-McCarthy, Erin. 7 Fascinating Facts About the First American Novel. Mental Floss.com. 21 Jan. 2016. http://mentalfloss.com/article/74019/7-fascinating-facts-about-first-american-novel.

January 16: Eponymous Adjective Day

El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.jpg
Title Page of the First Edition

On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.

The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to become one himself.  Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.

Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks windmills, thinking they are hulking giants.  Ordinary inns to Quixote become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.

Literary critics call Don Quixote the first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing.   William Faulkner read Don Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don Quixote his favorite literary character (1).

Often when an idea or a style originates from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a noun but as an adjective.  There are many examples of these proper nouns that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:  Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque.  When proper adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic), but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.  Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character.  Check any dictionary and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, or impractical.”

Today’s Challenge:  Autobiography of an Adjective

What are some examples of adjectives that derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary?  Select one of the eponymous adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the biography of the person behind the word.  Then, imagine the person behind the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or her name became an adjective.  Also, have the person explain the meaning of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Arthurian, Byronic, Chauvinistic, Darwinian, Dickensian, Epicurean, Faustian, Hippocratic, Jeffersonian, Kafkaesque, Leninist, Lutheran, Marxist, Newtonian, Oedipal, Orwellian, Platonic, Pyrrhic, Reaganesque, Sisyphean, Stentorian, Trepsicordian, Victorian, Wilsonian, Zoroastrian

Quotation of the Day:  It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes

1- Bloom, Harold. The Knight in the MirrorThe Guardian. 12 Dec. 2003.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 11

Subject:  Thin Slicing – The Warren Harding Effect (Halo Effect)

Event:  Publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, 2005

On January 11, 2005, Malcolm Gladwell published Blink, a book that examines the psychology of quick decision making. The book includes a fascinating critique of “thin-slicing,” the cognitive process of drawing broad, swift conclusions based on small bits of specific evidence.

While Gladwell explains that the type of intuitive judgment required for thin-slicing can be developed by experience and training, he also argues that it often leads to erroneous hasty generalizations based on prejudice and stereotypes.  

Warren G Harding-Harris & Ewing.jpg
Warren Harding (Library of Congress)

One specific cognitive bias that results from thin-slicing is illustrated by the biography of the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding.  

Gladwell explains that there was nothing that distinguished Harding as a great leader or politician.  He was not highly intelligent, nor did he have any significant legislative or policy achievements.  From the beginning of his political career at the turn of the 19th century until his successful run for the U.S. presidency in 1921, besides winning elections, Harding accomplished little else.  Harding did have one thing that distinguished him, however — his regal appearance.  He was a handsome man with a rich, resonant voice.  

As Gladwell explains, it was Harding’s attractive appearance that short-circuited the public’s thinking:

Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate — and entirely unwarranted — conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity.  They didn’t dig below the surface.  The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks (1).

What Gladwell calls the Warren Harding error is a more specific brand of a broader psychological phenomenon called the halo effect.  Anytime we allow a single quality, such as physical attractiveness, social status, or celebrity to overshadow all other qualities, we have fallen for the halo effect.  It explains why companies pay star athletes large sums of money to endorse their products.  Michael Jordan may not be an expert in car performance, but Chevrolet can count on the halo effect to subconsciously influence consumers.  Jordan’s athletic prowess is so prominent that it outshines all other qualities.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How can knowing the history of the 29th U.S. president help us avoid the halo effect and help us make better assessments of individuals?

Challenge –  Psychological Effect 101:  The Warren Harding error and the halo effect are just two examples of psychological effects that help us understand human thinking and behavior.  Research one of the effects below.  Then, write an elevator pitch explaining what the effect is and why it is important for better understanding the human species.

Barnum effect, Bystander effect, Contrast Effect, Cocktail party effect, Dunning-Kruger effect, Endowment effect, Framing Effect, False-consensus effect, Flynn Effect, Lake Wobegon Effect, Placebo Effect, Pratfall Effect

Sources:

1-Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 6

Subject:  Fortune – The Consolation of Philosophy

Event:  Wheel of Fortune debuts, 1975 

Wheel of Fortune logo.png
(Wikipedia)

On January 6, 1975, one of the most popular game shows in the history of television made its debut:  The Wheel of Fortune.  The show was created by Merv Griffin, who also created the game show Jeopardy as well as its famous theme song, called “Think.” The WOF is basically an adaptation of the game Hangman, where contestants guess letters in an attempt to solve word puzzles.  The show gets its name from the large carnival wheel that contestants spin.  Each spin determines how much money or prizes they can earn for each guess; contestants can also lose all their winnings if the wheel falls on “Bankrupt” or “Lose Turn.” 

Hundreds of years before the invention of television, the image of the wheel of Fortune served as a powerful symbol of the capriciousness of human fate.  Long before Vanna White turned the lighted titles to reveal letters of the alphabet, Fortuna, the Roman Goddess of Fortune, turned her wheel to determine the fate of mortals. Those at the top achieve happiness through acquired wealth and career success.  The wheel, however, spins on its axis, and even kings who were at the top of the wheel one minute can find themselves at the bottom in the next.  There at the bottom is the pain and agony of lost fortune:  failure, poverty, and loss.  As Shakespeare says in Sonnet 29 being at the bottom of Fortune’s wheel is not pleasant:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

In addition to her wheel, Fortuna was frequently depicted with two contrasting objects: in one hand she holds a cornucopia, symbolizing abundance and luxury; in the other hand, she holds a tiller, symbolizing her control over people’s destinies.

There is a long tradition in philosophy that seeks to find an antidote to the fickleness of fate.  The Stoics recognized the need to determine some method of hacking Fortune’s wheel, refusing to surrender individual destiny to capricious fate.  

Lady Fortune in a Boccaccio manuscript (Wikipedia)

Probably the best example of this comes from Boethius (475-525), the Roman philosopher who wrote the classic work The Consolation of Philosophy.  Boethius began his career with success, achieving the position as Consul for the Roman ruler King Theodoric.  Poised at the top of Fortune’s wheel, Boethius fell to the bottom when he was accused of plotting against Theodoric and imprisoned.  In his Consolation, Boethius tells the story of how he was visited in his prison cell by Lady Philosophy.  She advised him to remember and resist the whims of Fortuna.  She challenged Boethius to not base his happiness on what was out of his control — those things that may be snatched away at any moment by a spin of the fickle wheel. Instead, she instructed Boethius to meditate on what he could control — that is his powers of reason. Only by controlling his own mind and his own powers of perception could he free himself from the chains of fate.  As Hamlet said, “There is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” 

If the sky is full of dark clouds that block the sun, and the rain is falling, you can choose to let it affect your mood; the more philosophical approach, however, is to accept those things that you have no power to change and to focus instead on what you can change — your mind and attitude.   The Stoics remind us that we have power over what we think and what we feel.  We are mere mortals, but we have a super power called reason. 

Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am”; the Stoics said, “I think, therefore, I am immune to the fickle and frigid finger of fate.”

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the Stoic’s antidote for overcoming the fickleness of Fortune’s wheel?

Challenge:  Respond to the following quotation:

“Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars.” -Frederick Langridge

Today’s Word Day:  Happy Personification Day!

Source:  Boethius and The Consolation of Philosophy.  The School of Life.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 2

Subject:  The Curse of Knowledge – Tappers and Listeners

Event: The book Made to Stick published, 2007

Whenever you write, there’s a temptation to do more telling than showing.  This is because of a major writing and thinking obstacle called the curse of knowledge — the principle that says that once we know something, it is hard to remember what it was like when we didn’t know it.  On this day in 2007, authors Chip and Dan Heath published the book Made To Stick:  Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive, which first explained the concept of the curse of knowledge for a wide audience.

The reality of the curse of knowledge was first demonstrated in a 1990 study by Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology.  Newton created a game where the players were given one of two roles:  “tappers” or “listeners.”  The tappers were given a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and were instructed to tap out the rhythm of the song on a table.  The listeners were then asked to guess the song.

When asked to predict how successful the listeners would be in identifying their songs, the tappers predicted 50%.  This prediction wasn’t close.  Of the 120 songs tapped out, the listeners guessed only three, a 2.5% success rate.  The curse of knowledge explains the large disparity between the tappers’ predictions and their actual success rate.  As they tapped out their tunes, they could not avoid hearing the song in their heads; the listeners, however, only heard the taps.  The tappers were “cursed” by their knowledge of the songs’ melodies and were unable to imagine what it was like for the listener to hear only the tapping (1).

To avoid the curse of knowledge, writers must do more than just TELL their point; instead, they must also SHOW it with specific, concrete, and varied evidence.  Furthermore, writers must try to see their writing from the perspective of the “listeners” — the audience — continually asking themselves what they are trying to say, whether or not they are saying it clearly, and whether or not it can be understood by someone who has never encountered the topic before.

As George Orwell wrote in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), effective writers are always thinking about their audience and are always interrogating themselves to make sure that they are being clear:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? (2)

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How did the results of the tappers and listeners study illustrate the problem that the curse of knowledge presents us when we try to communicate?

Challenge – PSA – How to Lift the Curse:  Write a public service announcement for speakers and writers on why understanding the curse of knowledge is essential for effective, clear communication with an audience.

Also on this day:  The prolific writer, biochemist, and legend of science fiction, Isaac Asimov was born this day in 1920.  As the author of over 500 books, Asimov knew how to overcome the curse of knowledge.  He was also humble enough to laugh at himself.  Read this anecdote that Asimov told to illustrate the difference between education and common sense.

HAPPY 55 FICTION DAY!

Sources:  

1-Heath, Chip and Dan Heath.  Made To Stick:  Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive.  New York:  Random House, 2007.

2-Orwell, George.  “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

THINKER’S ALMANAC – JANUARY 1

Subject: Parallel Thinking – Six Thinking Hats 

Event: Edward De Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats published, 1985

You have heard of the Mad Hatter, but have you heard of the Colorful Caps of Cognition?

On January 1, 1985, Edward De Bono published his book Six Thinking Hats.  De Bono is known for coining the term “lateral thinking,” which involves solving problems via indirect, creative approaches.  In Six Thinking Hats, he presents a different type of thinking, a type of thinking that might be even more radical and unorthodox than lateral thinking;  De Bono calls it parallel thinking. 

With parallel thinking, De Bono has the audacity to take on the Greek Gang of Three:  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  De Bono concedes that 2,400 years ago the GG3 established argumentation as an effective method for seeking the truth.  However, De Bono is concerned with the limits of argument because it is too negative, too ego-driven, and too limited for the creative exploration of ideas. Too often argumentative thinking puts us at each other’s throats; De Bono’s vision was to try to put us at each other’s side — thinking together.

Six Thinking Hats.jpg
Wikipedia

The antidote to these limits is the Six Thinking Hats which divides thinking into six distinctly different modes.  When working with a group to solve a problem, De Bono’s key rule is that everyone must employ the same mode of thinking at the same time. This is what he means by parallel thinking:  instead of facing off against each other with clashing claims and arguments in the traditional debate format, parallel thinking has everyone facing the same direction.  Everyone in the group puts on the same thinking cap, facing the issue as a team as they generate ideas and possible solutions.  This prevents anyone in the group from slipping into instinctive negative, adversarial thinking that shuts down the generation and exploration of ideas. Each of the six hats represents a different mode or perspective.  By everyone taking the same perspective at the same time, the thinking becomes more systematic and less chaotic.

First is the Blue Hat.  It’s the metacognition hat, the hat where we think about our thinking.  The Blue Hat allows everyone to organize their thinking, deciding the sequence in which they will wear the other five hats.

Here are the thinking modes and colors of the other hats, in no particular order:

White Hat: Focus only on information and facts, not arguments. Identify the information you have, and ask questions about what information is missing and where you might find it. 

Red Hat: Focus on feelings, emotion, and intuition. What feelings and emotions do you have regarding the issue?  Don’t worry about explaining your feelings or about needing to logically justify them.

Black Hat:  Focus on critical thinking and judgment, looking for weaknesses and problems. This is where everyone in the group gets to play Devil’s Advocate.

Yellow Hat: Focus on positive thinking, looking for the benefits and the value of an idea. This is where everyone forgets about the “cons,” focusing ONLY on the “pros.”

Green Hat:  Focus on creative thinking, generating ideas and alternatives without judging them.

The goal of the Six Hats method is to reduce the chaos normally associated with thinking.  Instead of juggling multiple modes at the same time, the parallel thinking approach allows an individual or a group to focus the thinking in one direction at a time.  For De Bono, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, the Six Thinking Hats method is not just theory; he has made practical application of it for years, working with corporations, educators, and government leaders around the world.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is parallel thinking, and what are the six different modes of thinking represented by the six different colors of De Bono’s hats?

Challenge – The Six Pack Thinking App:  Apply the Six Thinking Hats to the following proposition:  “The electoral college should be abolished.”  List ideas by trying on and thinking with one hat at a time.  Once you’ve created a list with ideas for each of the Six Hats, put on the Blue Hat again, and reflect on what ideas you produced that you might not have if you took a traditional approach of arguing for or against the proposition.

Also on this day: The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to learn about the fresh start effect and the work of Katherine Milkman.

Today’s Word Day: HAPPY EXORDIUM DAY!

Sources:  De Bono, Edward.  Six Thinking Hats.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

November 24:  Five Ws and H Day

On this day in 1703, the winds of one of the fiercest storms in British history began to blow.  They would continue blowing for an entire week, resulting in 123 deaths on land and 8,000 drowned at sea. More than 800 houses were destroyed along with over 400 windmills.

Almost as notable as the storm itself was the publication of an account of the storm that was published by Daniel Defoe just a few months after the storm.  At the time, Defoe had not yet published his best known work, the novel Robinson Crusoe (See February 1: From News to Novel Day).  Defoe had just been released from prison after serving several months for seditious libel after publishing a satirical tract on the religious intolerance of the Church of English.  His sentence included being put in the pillory in the center of London for one hour on three successive days.

Desperate for money after his legal troubles, Defoe hatched the idea of writing about the great storm.  He didn’t just write his own account, however. Instead, he placed newspaper ads requesting individuals to send him their stories from the storm.  Although there were newspapers at the time, the type of objective news reporting we associate with journalism today was non-existent.  Defoe’s book The Storm is seen today as a pioneering work of journalism, containing approximately 60 separate first-hand accounts of England’s great tempest (1).

In the excerpt below, Defoe recounts a grim anecdote of a double suicide by a ship’s captain and his surgeon:

One unhappy Accident I cannot omit, and which is brought us from good Hands, and happen’d in a Ship homeward bound from the West-Indies. The Ship was in the utmost Danger of Foundring; and when the Master saw all, as he thought, lost, his Masts gone, the Ship leaky, and expecting her every moment to sink under him, fill’d with Despair, he calls to him the Surgeon of the Ship, and by a fatal Contract, as soon made as hastily executed, they resolv’d to prevent the Death they fear’d by one more certain; and going into the Cabbin, they both shot themselves with their Pistols. It pleas’d God the Ship recover’d the Distress, was driven safe into —— and the Captain just liv’d to see the desperate Course he took might have been spar’d; the Surgeon died immediately. (2)

Defoe’s legacy remains alive today in the form of six basic words that form the essential toolkit for journalism:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.  Known commonly as the 5 Ws and H, these six words are excellent reminders of the basic questions we should use to investigate any topic, whether writing a news story or an investigative report:

Who was involved?

What happened?

When did it happen?

Where did it happen?

Why did it happen?

How did it happen?

Today’s Challenge:  Searching for Sense with Six Question

What are some examples of the most important events in world history?  Brainstorm a list of significant events from world history.  Then, select one specific event and begin researching the event by asking and answering the 5 Ws and H. Put together a brief report that includes answers to all six questions.  Write for an audience who knows little about the event.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Miller, John J. “Writing Up a Storm” Wall Street Journal 13 August 2011.

2-Defoe, Daniel. The Storm. Project Gutenberg. Public Domain. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42234/42234-h/42234-h.htm.