This fantastic test was posted by the New York Times over a year ago:
We’ve chosen a rule that some sequences of three numbers obey — and some do not. Your job is to guess what the rule is. We’ll start by telling you that the sequence 2, 4, 8 obeys the rule:
Now it’s your turn. Enter a number sequence in the boxes below, and we’ll tell you whether it satisfies the rule or not. You can test as many sequences as you want.
The answer was extremely basic. The rule was simply: Each number must be larger than the one before it. 5, 10, 20 satisfies the rule, as does 1, 2, 3 and -17, 14.6, 845. Children in kindergarten can understand this rule.
But most people start off with the incorrect assumption that if we’re asking them to solve a problem, it must be a somewhat tricky problem. They come up with a theory for what the answer is, like: Each number is double the previous number. And then they make a classic psychological mistake.
They don’t want to hear the answer “no.” In fact, it may not occur to them to ask a question that may yield a no.
Remarkably, 77 percent of people who have played this game so far have guessed the answer without first hearing a single no. A mere 9 percent heard at least three nos — even though there is no penalty or cost for being told no, save the small disappointment that every human being feels when hearing “no.”
It’s a lot more pleasant to hear “yes.” That, in a nutshell, is why so many people struggle with this problem.
This disappointment is a version of what psychologists and economists call confirmation bias. Not only are people more likely to believe information that fits their pre-existing beliefs, but they’re also more likely to go looking for such information. This experiment is a version of one that the English psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason used ina seminal 1960 paper on confirmation bias. (He used the even simpler 2, 4 and 6, rather than our 2, 4 and 8.)
Most of us can quickly come up with other forms of confirmation bias — and yet the examples we prefer tend to be, themselves, examples of confirmation bias. If you’re politically liberal, maybe you’re thinking of the way that many conservatives ignore strongevidence of global warming and its consequences and instead glom onto weaker contrary evidence. Liberals are less likely to recall the many incorrect predictions over the decades, often strident and often from the left, that population growth would create widespread food shortages. It hasn’t.
This puzzle exposes a particular kind of confirmation bias that bedevils companies, governments and people every day: the internal yes-man (and yes-woman) tendency. We’re much more likely to think about positive situations than negative ones, about why something might go right than wrong and about questions to which the answer is yes, not no.
Sometimes, the reluctance to think negatively has nothing to do with political views or with a conscious fear of being told no. Often, people never even think about asking questions that would produce a negative answer when trying to solve a problem — like this one. They instead restrict the universe of possible questions to those that might potentially yield a “yes.”
In this exercise, the overwhelming majority of readers gravitated toward confirming their theory rather than trying to disprove it. A version of this same problem compromised the Obama administration’s and Federal Reserve’s (mostly successful) response to the financial crisis. They were too eager to find “green shoots” of economic recovery that would suggest that the answer to the big question in their minds was, just as they hoped and believed: “Yes, the crisis response is aggressive enough, and it’s working.” More damaging was the approach that President George W. Bush’s administration, and others, took toward trying to determine whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago — and how the Iraqi people would react to an invasion. Vice President Dick Cheney predicted in 2003, “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
Corporate America is full of more examples. Executives of Detroit’s Big Three didn’t spend enough time brainstorming in the 1970s and 1980s about how their theory of the car market might be wrong. Wall Street andthe Fed made the same mistake during the dot-com and housing bubbles. To pick an example close to home, newspapers didn’t spend enough time challenging the assumption that classified advertisements would remain plentiful for decades.
One of the best-selling business books in history — about negotiation strategy — is “Getting to Yes.” But the more important advice for us may instead be to go out of our way to get to no. When you want to test a theory, don’t just look for examples that prove it. When you’re considering a plan, think in detail about how it might go wrong.
Some businesses have made this approach a formal part of their decision-making: Imagine our strategy has failed; what are the most likely reasons it did? As Jason Zweig has written in The Wall Street Journal, “Gary Klein, a psychologist at Applied Research Associates, of Albuquerque, N.M., recommends imagining that you have looked into a crystal ball and have seen that your investment has gone bust.”
When you seek to disprove your idea, you sometimes end up proving it — and other times you can save yourself from making a big mistake. But you need to start by being willing to hear no. And even if you think that you are right, you need to make sure you’re asking questions that might actually produce an answer of no. If you still need to work on this trait, don’t worry: You’re only human.
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
― Richard Feynman
“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”
From Chapter 1 of “A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative” by Roger von Oech:
“Children enter school as question marks and come out as periods.”–Neil Postman, Educator
Much of our education system is geared toward teaching people to find “the right answer.” By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The “right answer” approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn’t this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers–all depending on what you are looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher put a small dot on the blackboard. She asked the class what it was. A few seconds passed and then someone said, “A chalk dot on the blackboard.” The rest of the class seemed relieved that the obvious had been stated, and no one else had anything to say. “I’m surprised at you,” the teacher told the class. “I did the same exercise yesterday with a group of kindergartners, and they thought of fifty different things it could be: an owl’s eye, a cigar butt, the top of a telephone pole, a star, a pebble, a squashed bug, a rotten egg, and so on. They had their imaginations in high gear.”
In the ten year period between kindergarten and high school, not only had we learned how to find the right answer, we had also lost the ability to look for more than one right answer. We had learned how to be specific, but we had lost much of our imaginative power.
An elementary school teacher told me the following story about a colleague who had given her first graders a coloring assignment:
The instructions said: “On this sheet of paper, you will find an outline of a house, trees, flowers, clouds, and sky. Please color each with the appropriate colors.” One of the students, Patty, put a lot of work into her drawing. When she got it back, she was surprised to find a big black “X” on it. She asked the teacher for an explanation. “I gave you an ‘X’ because you didn’t follow the instructions. Grass is green not gray. The sky should be blue, not yellow as you have drawn it. Why didn’t you use the normal colors, Patty?”
Patty answered, “Because that’s how it looks to me when I get up early to watch the sunrise.”
The teacher had assumed that there was only one right answer. The practice of looking for the “one right answer” can have serious consequences in the way we think about and deal with problems. Most people don’t like problems, and when they encounter them, they usually react by taking hte first way out they can find–even if they solve the wrong problem. I can’t overstate the danger in this. If you have only one idea, you have only one course of action open to you, and this is quite risky in a world where flexibility is a requirement for survival.
An idea is like a musical note. In the same way that a musical note can only be understood in relation to other notes (either as part of a melody or a chord), an idea is best understood in the context of other ideas. If you have only one idea, you don’t have anything to compare it to. You don’t know its strengths and weaknesses.
For more effective thinking, we need different points of view. Otherwise we’ll get stuck looking at the same things and miss seeing things outside our focus.
When designing my logo, I began by listing objectives and stating the message I wanted to communicate in order to brand myself. I wanted to convey problem solving since design is about constantly seeking ways for improvement and seeking problems to address. I began brainstorming different ways to convey problem solving in my logo. I wanted the logo to remain simple and versatile.
283 sketches later, I came up with the idea of using the puzzle piece in the counterform of my name. I began working with different puzzle shapes and sketching different ways to accomplish this idea.
I then began working on the computer and testing different typefaces, spacing, and colors. I explored making the puzzle piece more significant and also more subtly. Since one of my goals was to create a logo that was simple and versatile, I decided to make the puzzle piece less emphasized.
After choosing the color and typeface, I converted the type to paths and began customizing the letters for the final result:
I received this invite to a friend’s birthday brunch today. There are several aspects of Facebook’s mobile app that could use improvement, but here’s an easy one: Adding not only the date, but also the day of the event. June 9th is nearly a month away and I had no idea what day that falls on. Many people plan schedules based on the day. One might work Monday-Friday, or play kickball on Wednesday, or sit at home googling cat pictures on Thursdays. I am usually working during ‘brunch hours’ during the week so I had to close the FB app and open my calendar app to make sure that June 9th is on a weekend.
Below is a better option that makes the process easier for the user without changing the overall design. Sometimes even the most simple changes can make design significantly more effective and it’s this attention to detail that can turn a bad design into a good design, or a good design into a great design.
I’ve began a new project and personal goal, which consists of hand-lettering a vocabulary word every day for a year. The goal is to improve my lettering skills while simultaneously learning 365 new words.
I was inspired by a project called The Daily Artifact, which was a personal challenge by Corey Fuller, a friend and former teacher of mine, to create a drawing, design, photograph, doodle, etc., every day for a year.
My plan is to sketch a word daily and then at the end of each month, choose one of the sketches to create finished type on the computer.
Here are the sketches from the first three days:
I never used to make resolutions for the same reasons that many don’t—I considered it imprudent to derive goals that would merely last a couple months before being abandoned. But when I was in college I realized that this idea was simply capitulating to failure without even attempting to accomplish goals. So while I still think goals should be set inveterately, NYE is a convenient time to assess previous goals and set new ones. This is my list of personal goals (I’m excluding career goals), which pretty much remains the same each year:
• Travel to at least five new places
• Read at least 24 new books (1 every two weeks)
• Learn at least 24 new guitar scales (1 every two weeks)
• Learn at least 12 new time signatures (1 every month)
• Memorize 365 new words (1 per day)
• Continue diet & exercise routine from 2012
From Chapter 6.2 of Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
Choose typefaces that suit the task as well as the subject
You are designing, let us say, a book about bicycle racing. You have found in the specimen books a typeface called Bicycle, which has spokes in the O, an A in the shape of a racing seat, a T that resembles a set of racing handlebars, and tiny cleated shoes perched on the long, one-sided serifs of ascenders and descenders, like pumping feet on the pedals. Surely this is the perfect face for your book?
Actually, typefaces and racing bikes are very much alike. Both are ideas as well as machines, and neither should be burdened with excess drag or baggage. Pictures of pumping feet will not make the type go faster, any more than smoke trails, pictures of rocket ships or imitation lightning bolts tied to the frame will improve the speed of the bike.
The best type for a book about bicycle racing will be, first of all, an inherently good type. Second, it will be a good type for books, which means a good type for comfortable long-distance reading. Third, it will be a type sympathetic to the theme. It will probably be lean, strong and swift; perhaps it will also be Italian. But it is unlikely to be carrying excess ornament or freight, and unlikely to be indulging in a masquerade.