Three ways of thinking

Imagine a group of people that have been identically and adequately trained. They are then asked to solve a problem (an intellectual one). The way they will proceed is the criterion I will use to divide the different ways of thinking into three.

To better understand this situation, I will use the following analogy: this group of people is beneath the ground, inside some strange mine where they have been told precious stones can be found. All of them have been given a small lamp, a shovel, and a mining pick. They have been trained to use their tools, but that’s all. How will they proceed?

The first thing they will very likely do is walk around the tunnels. That is, they will explore and see what is there. During this stage, some will find areas where they can quickly find small precious stones if they keep digging. Some others will discover small journals written by previous diggers and start reading and learning from them. A third group will begin shoveling and trying to see if they can open new ways.

The first kind of people will continue moving from wall to wall and dig out anything that shines enough to be seen.

The second one will begin to understand which areas can offer specific kinds of precious stones and in which amount.

The last kind will probably find venues with and without resources. But all of them will represent new information to what was initially given.

The three types are equally important; none is less or more than the others. They all need each other. Thanks to the first kind, the group will have collected a large quantity of precious stones. The second kind will have very likely helped the others in their efforts, creating more intelligent decisions. The last kind will have represented an enlargement of the mine, offering new paths and possibilities to newcomers.

Coming back to the intellectual challenge. We can now realize that people can be divided into three ways of thinking: i) those that will compute things and fill an immediate need, ii) those that will help create more efficient tools or help understand why things are the way they are, and iii) those that will innovate and create entirely new methods/frameworks or theories.

It’s unfortunate to realize how society has decided to measure intelligence by only considering “geniuses” the third kind of person, without noting the interplay of the three manners and the collective effort to push knowledge and advance frontiers.

Of course, as physicists do, I have idealized this situation, and other ways of thinking could be proposed. However, the takeaway message should remain the same. To start rewarding the collective and stop rewarding only individuals.