What Drives Insightful Thinking?

By Sal A. 

OGB Member John Syc calls this, “a level of thinking and consideration that seems to get to the heart of the matter instead of focusing on the noise.” He also notes that this kind of thinking usually draws upon a well-thought out belief system and understanding of multiple disciplines/ideologues.

But how can we work towards this kind of deep, interdisciplinary thinking?

What I’ve personally noticed about insightful thinkers is:

           1. They are naturally curious.

From my experience, this seems to be something you are more or less born with, but can be encouraged or discouraged.  My 12-year-old son keeps asking “why” until he gets to two or three levels below the original question. On the other hand, my 17-year-old daughter wants to learn the minimum of what she needs to know to get the current job done. She is much faster at getting things done than my son and time is much more important to her. They have both been like this as far as I can remember.

As an aside, I believe children are naturally curious, but over time, the school system drives much of this curiosity out of them by the pressure of grades, rewarding single correct answers over original thinking, and generally makes learning too linear and too serious.

          2. These people spend a lot of time reading and they read widely.

The second part is clarity of expression.  Part of this is that you can only explain something clearly if you understand it deeply enough. Some people are just more articulate than others. I know a lot of smart people who think intuitively and visually, and have a tough time expressing ideas in words but can solve very difficult problems.  Others are more verbal and take things    step-by-step in their thought process. Their ability to verbalize ideas seem to be much more in sync with their thought process.  I myself tend to solve problems more intuitively, i.e., I often see the answer before I know how I got it, and it takes me time to find the right words to explain it to someone. I see the same characteristics in my son. My business partner is excellent at speaking precisely and accurately the first time.


In spending a lot of time reading widely, there is also a certain depth to reading that is an art form. OGB Interlocutor John Pascarella notes that, “learning to immerse oneself in a text in that manner over time helps one become a better reader and, through that, a better thinker.  It produces an agility in thought that cannot be achieved if one tries to pigeonhole texts into certain frameworks (for example, Plato as an “idealist,” Machiavelli as a “realist”)”.

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