There is a growing category of software tools designed to help you think better. Whether they help depends both on how you think and on why you think (i.e. whether you’re analyzing or imagining). Probably the best known thinking tool is Peter Senge’s systems thinking methodology. Basically cause-and-effect diagrams, they help turn negative reinforcing actions (vicious cycles) into positive ones (virtuous cycles). Here’s an illustration of the tragedy of the commons that is leading Bush to want to privatize everything, in systems thinking, from Outsights :

sys chart

You can buy Stella and ithink systems thinking software. I used this process to diagram the positive reinforcement of the 17 Projects in my How to Save the World proposal, and again in my analysis of depression .

A second category of thinking tools might be defined as deconstructing tools. They take an idea or an objective and decompose it into its elements or aspects. Here’s an example of its use by Matt Mower to analyze the process of knowledge capture, using MindManager software:

sys chart

There are many other tools that help you organize your thoughts, and hence at least indirectly think better. These include critical path and GANTT charts, and a variety of scheduling, system design and project management tools. There are software versions of many of these tools.

Some bloggers have developed tools that work in connection with their blogs to help them find relevant information and inspiration. Here’s AugustDiva’s links for thinking . I think it’s a great improvement over blogrolls.

How about right-brain, creative processes? Creative thinking gurus like De Bono and Michalko use models and exercises like Six Thinking Hats and Thinkertoys to stimulate the imagination, and perhaps remove blockages from creative thinking. It’s a matter of opinion whether the creative process lends itself to processes (and hence software tools) as rigorous as those for the analytical processes.

What do you think? Do you use any of these tools, and do they actually help you think better?

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Working Smarter. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Marie Foster says:

    I just don’t get diagrams. For some reason they have never worked for me. If it is a simple bar graph I do ok. But for me it is like a guessing game which I hate.Maybe I need remedial diagram 101..

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Everyone learns differently. That’s why some people (mostly guys) like maps and others (mostly women) like sequential directions.

  3. Charly Z says:

    Thinking tools confuse me most of the time. Then I realize why: I didn’t have any thoughts of my own to work out to begin with.

  4. Marie Foster says:

    Men like maps? hehe… hmmmm… ok. The ones in my life have prided themselves in being able to find anything without a map. Actually, I love maps. I used to study them as a kid. Which is weird when I think about it. I need to consider this.

  5. mrG says:

    Don’t tell any of my clients, or at least don’t tell the really big conservative clients, but I use a system that is really very similar to Mindmanager from what I can tell from your diagram (in that it accounts for but follows consequences, but it also accounts for antecedents). This system uses a fixed set of bi-directional pathways between a fixed-set of nodes in a network, where each of the nodes is itself expressible recursively in the same decompositional map.In this design system, the who and what are applied by how through the for the purpose of the consequence, where the consequence is itself a secondary design system that is the effective what. Applying the same chain to the what leads to the way the system reacts over time, like a meta-how/when, and that leading to a consequence chain that is itself the seed of the future projects that will obsolesce this sounds complex, but this four-part systemic thinking is mnemonically evident in the organization of the pathways so the whole thing is reasonably easy to remember and simple enough to apply that it doesn’t really require software and works pretty well off 5×3 flash cards.It’s called The Tarot.

  6. Beth says:

    I’m late coming to this, but I love this stuff. Anyway, inspiration is great software, mostly used in education circles and not too expensive. Do you know of any open source mindmapping software tools?

  7. Rob says:

    Excellent post. Systems thinking software is the future. Thanks for the link to Stella and ithink. I will likely be buying Stella for my own systems thinking analysis..All the best.

Comments are closed.