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Extending and developing your thinking skills
Extending and developing your thinking skills

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8.2 Broadening perception

Particular perspectives and points of view underpin speaking and writing. Being successful at many academic tasks, including balanced argument, often requires us to be conscious of and to try to break away from our usual perspectives and ways of thinking, and to attend to things we might not normally notice. The challenge is often to be more open-minded and broad in our thinking, to consider more than one point of view in the way that the caffeine article did. It can be useful to have strategies for helping us to examine and change our perceptions. Activity 23 will start you off on this road.

Activity 23

Print out or copy the figure below then, without taking your pen off the paper draw four straight lines so that all the dots in Figure 5 are joined.

This image shows a diagram consisting of three rows of three dots, arranged in a square.
Figure 5: A challenge


How did you get on? In order to complete this task, you needed to 'think outside the box' (that is, to perceive the task in a way that might not have been immediately obvious. The solution to this puzzle is given below.

This image shows the solution to the challenge. There are three rows of three dots, one on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. An arrowed line joins the dots. The line begins with the right hand dot on the first row. It is drawn straight through the middle dot on the second row to the left dot of the bottom row. The line then turns to the right to pass through the other two dots on the bottom row. The line continues further, beyond the realm of the box formed by the dots. Then it turns to run diagonally, passing through the right hand dot on the middle row, then through the middle dot on the first row. The line continues further, beyond the realm of the box formed by the dots, to the point where it is a step higher than the first dot of the first row, but level with the first column of dots. The line then turns and runs downward passing through all the left hand dots. It stops when it reaches the left hand dot on the bottom row.

There are many useful thinking tools for helping you to 'think outside the box'. Playing 'devil's advocate' is one - that is, what would somebody with an opposite view or someone who disagrees say?

Activity 24

Think of as many ways as you can to finish the following sentence.

People should be encouraged to smoke because …


Did you find this difficult? Perhaps you have particular principles or feelings that influenced your ability to respond to the task? Here are some reasons you could have given: many people find smoking enjoyable; smoking helps people to cope with life; smokers generate employment in the tobacco industry; smoking raises taxes; smoking lowers the cost of geriatric care because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; smoking reduces the level of chronic illness in the elderly population because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; smoking saves on pension payments because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; young people think smoking is cool - it makes them feel they belong (adapted from Seedhouse, 1997). Looking at this list were you itching to argue against some of them? If so, you can see how valuable this is in stimulating thinking! We hope that this activity will help you appreciate that we can consider other points of view (even if we do not agree with them).

The PMI technique (de Bono, 1999) is another tool to help you think outside the box and make a balanced argument. The idea is to look at the plus (good) points, minus (bad) points and the interesting points.

Activity 25

Use the PMI technique to look at the case for promoting smoking or another subject of your choice.


If you chose smoking, you could put the points noted above on the plus side. On the minus side, some possibilities might include: smoking causes sickness and shortens lives; smoking makes people unfit; treating smoking related diseases is a drain on NHS resources; smoking leads to absenteeism and loss of productivity; smoking damages non-smokers through passive smoking; smoking is dirty and smelly; smoking causes accidents such as fires and other damage to property (adapted from Seedhouse, 1997). On the interesting side, some suggestions might include: if we promoted it, would smoking become less fashionable among the young, would the price of cigarettes go down, and would a cure for cancer be found more quickly?