Deep Smarts, Deep Thinking, and Metacognition

ThinkingWhenever I write a blog about a subject like thinking, I inevitably face up to the fact that blogging about thinking doesn’t easily grab readers. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are a lot more exciting, even though they’re not nearly as needful or valuable. Deep thought is the kind of stuff that more mature clients are after, especially when they face serious decisionmaking or strategic needs.

Deep smarts is the engine of every organization. You can’t really progress without them. And you’ll manage a lot more effectively if you understand what they are, how they are built and cultivated—and how they can be transferred to others. In this blog, I intend only to describe deep thinking.

In the new Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (2nd edition), Keith Sawyer summarizes the differences between “deep learning” and “traditional classroom practices.” His summary was so explicit and so perceptive that I wanted to do a business riff on it: an analysis that applies directly to organizational need.

In this table, I’ll compare traditional training and thinking practices to deep thinking.

  • Traditional training and development treats new insights as unrelated to what you already know.
    Deep thinking requires you to relate new ideas and concepts to previous knowledge and experience.
  • Traditional training and development treats new material as disconnected bits of knowledge.
    Deep thinking requires you to integrate new knowledge into your thinking systems. Traditional T &D emphasizes facts and procedures without a depth understanding of how and why. Deep thinking requires you to look for underlying patterns and principles.
  • Traditional T&D doesn’t deal with new ideas that are different from the class objectives.
    Deep thinking requires you to evaluate new ideas and relate them to previous conclusions.
  • Traditional T&D treats facts and procedures as static knowledge handed down from an all-knowing authority. Deep thinking requires you to understand the process of conversation through which knowledge is created, and that you examine the logic of an argument critically.
  • Traditional T&D emphasizes memory without reflecting on your own thinking strategies. Deep thinking requires you to reflect on your own understanding and your own process of learning.

The new focus on deep thinking underlies all the knowledge work in today’s economy. Over the last twenty years scientists have studied expertise and the practices that make for expertise. Deep thinking is a reflection of those studies of top professionals and their ways of making organizational contributions.

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