Author Archives: Michael Parker

Behaviour and Psychology Leadership and Power

Leader vs. Manager

When I was first studying business, I used to think that the leader was the person in charge of the company and that the managers were the people he employed.

On reflection, this kind of thinking is understandable as the type of manager who were featured on the news and on the covers of magazines were the one who also happened to be great leaders.

It wasn’t until later that it become obvious that a manager can also be a leader. Leader isn’t a job title like manager, but a point of view and a way of acting.

What are the differences between leaders and managers?

When, Where and How vs. What and Why:

Leaders focus on the organisation’s overall vision and strategy, whereas managers will put their efforts into administrating day-to-day tasks and coordinating their team. Managers have short-term views which focus on Quarter 1- 4, leaders have longer-term perspectives focusing on Year 1-4. Managers always have an eye on their budgets and on the bottom line, leaders have their eyes on the horizon.

Maintenance vs. Development:

A manager will see their role as to maintain performance and sustain the business, but leaders will make it their goal to develop and grow the market. Managers accept and help to maintain the status quo but the leader challenges it.

Processes vs. People

There is a tendency for managers to focus heavily on processes, hierarchies and systems, whereas leaders focus on people and what works best for them. Managers will do things the right way while the leader does the right thing.

Authority vs. Trust

A manager will rely on their job title to give them control and authority to instruct their team. Leaders will achieve authority through trust and respect.


Is being a leader better than being a manager? Not necessarily, good managers are as important as good leaders. All organisation need good managers, they are the ones who turn the leader’s vision into a reality.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a good leader or manager, please add your story below.

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Smart Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci

We are fascinated by people who seem to have incredible talents and intelligence and this is obvious by the number of hugely successful TV shows with incredible minds as the main characters; Da Vinci’s Demons, House, Suits, SherlockNumbers, Prison Break and quite a few others. 

Most of these TV shows however explain that characters with incredible cognitive skill were almost always born that way. Very little time goes into showing how skill was developed.

One of the oldest Psychological debates is the Nature vs. Nurture question, are we born with certain behaviours and personalities or do we develop them as we grow, influenced by our upbringing and environment.

Intelligence, like confidence is something we all wish we had a little more of, but is there a limit to how intelligent a person can be? Can someone BECOME a genius, or are they born that way?

Unlike the rest of the TV shows listDa-Vincis-Demonsed above however, Da Vinci’s Demons does hint at his learning through experimentation and Sherlock shows the titular character performing various experiments to gain his knowledge.

Historians love Leonardo, he is the world’s most revered and famed genius and there is always something new to discover about his experiences and talents.

Da Vinci however, being a historical figure has been heavily idolised and investigated. Leonardo’s genius will always come under scrutiny. Most people who have encountered Da Vinci’s vast interests and works have wondered how they could think like Da Vinci.

Luckily, Da Vinci left behind a plethora of notes and works for us to examine and and through examining his notebooks and the way he lived, author Michael J. Gelb discovered that there were 7 methods that Leonardo employed, to get the results he is famous for. Gelb calls these the 7 Da Vincian Principles:

  • Curiosita’ (Curiosity) – an insatiable curiosity
  • Dimostrazione (Demonstration) – testing knowledge through experience
  • Sensazione (Sensation) – continued refinement of the senses
  • Sfumato (Mystery) – a willingness to embrace ambiguity
  • Arte/Scienza (Art/Science) – developing a balance between art and science
  • Corporalita’ (Corporeality) – cultivating fitness and poise
  • Connessione (Connection) – recognising that all phenomena are connected.


From a young age, Leonardo was incredibly curious, famously infuriating his teachers will the sheer volume and depth of his questions. Leonardo’s curiosity led him seamlessly from one subject to another and prompted him to ask many questions and then find the answers.

Sometimes the best ideas and innovations come from asking the simple question “What if?” Imagine how the world would be if “What if we take a telephone and make it portable?” was never asked.

This is how we learn as we grow up. We explore anything we’re interested in with energy and enthusiasm. Da Vinci maintained his curiosity throughout his life prompting him to explore and experiment in many different disciplines.

Picasso once said:

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.



He was a firm believer that everything should be tested through experience before a fact can be fully accepted (within reason). Being the son of a notary, Da Vinci was taught to read and also had access to books. He taught himself Latin and when Leonardo was interested in a subject, he would read accounts from as many field experts as he could find and then proceed to test every theory, not taking their expertise for granted.

This is something we rarely do today, if an expert says something on TV, we almost always blindly accept, because, well, they’re an expert! Obviously we can’t test everything and question every fact or theory, but within reason we should aim to test and explore things for ourselves, before accepting them.

ExperimentFundamental to Leonardo’s discoveries was the belief that all senses should be continually refined and exposed to new experiences. Every once in a while, pause when eating and focus on the texture of your food and the taste.

Do this for each of the senses aiming to expose them to one new feeling each day. Da Vinci would take notes on things that he had eaten, taking down every detail he could. This made his mind deft at noticing the smallest details, an invaluable skill in artistic and engineering pursuits.

New experiences also give our brains new building blocks for ideas, can help break stagnating though patterns. Uncommon and unexpected events promote flexible and lateral thinking.

Imagine that your brain is soil and each new experience adds nutrients to the soil. The more nutrients available and the easier it is for seeds (ideas) to plant, grow and blossom.


Mystery surrounds Leonardo and his willingness to embrace mystery and uncertainty is legendary. Just think of the Mona Lisa, because of the soft shadows around her eyes and the corners of her mouth, we can never be quite sure of what mood she is in.

Is the Mona Lisa a portrait of Isabella d’Este of Mantua as claimed by Giorgio Vasari (30 years after Leonardo’s death)? Is she a composite of all the women ever known by Da Vinci? Or is the Mona Lisa a wonderful feminised self-portrait of Leonardo himself? We’ll likely never know. It is possibly the mystery surrounding the painting that gives it such incredible value.

Did mystery increase Da Vinci’s intelligence and cognitive skill? Likely not, but it mastery control of mysery certainly made him appear to others as far more able and skilled than an ordinary man.


Leonardo is largely famous for 2 pursuits, painting and engineering. He was a huge advocate for the combination of art and science. Even before the suggestions of left-brain and right-brain thinking, Leonardo believed that a balance between the 2, a whole brain thinking method, was the best balance. One way to have use this principle (as suggested in Think Like Da Vinci) is to construct mind-maps, using pictures and words in combination.

When you think of an artist today, usually you picture a painter or a strange sculpture in the Tate modern, but back in Da Vinci’s day, artists were expected to have studied a variety of disciplines. Da Vinci’s study of such a wide range of topics was not unique, but the depth and skill he went to was.
Da-Vinci-FootIt was also using the two in tandem which led Da Vinci to his most famous inventions. He became fascinated by the human foot and it promoted him to say:

The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

His interest in the foot led him to engineering and studying engineering drove him to investigate flight. He turned to nature  for his inspiration prompting his studying the flight and movements of birds and other animals.

For Da Vinci art and science were the same thing as one invariably inspired and influence the other.


A surprising part of Leonardo’s principles was Corporeality, fitness and grace. Leonardo was reported to have stopped a pair of horses in full gallop with his bare hands by grabbing the reigns. This is demonstrated somewhat in the TV show Da Vinci’s Demons highlighting the young artist’s ambidextrous fighting skill, his grace and his fitness.

Leonardo knew how much physical health affected mental health and was constantly improving his physique. As a skilled and experienced chef, Leonardo nutrition was also excellent.

Hundreds of studies have produced the same results that Da Vinci and countless others have known for centuries, a healthy body supports a healthy mind.

The energy that comes from keeping fit and eating right powered Da Vinci throughout his life.


The final principle is the one I believe contributes most to intelligence; Connection. The ability to see the connection and relationships between different situations is incredibly important and some people have become great simply from their ability to connect to previously unconnected ideas (e.g. Jeff Bezos with

One definition of an idea is “the new combination of existing ideas”. In marketing, the ability to create connections can separate a good marketer from a marketing maverick.

Connection is invariably linked to sensations and having new experiences, the more stimuli you take in, the more components you can connect together to produce ideas. I explore this in my post How to Think Like Don Draper.

If you want to think like Da Vinci, embodying his principles will certainly get you on the right path:

  • Curiosity
  • Demonstration
  • Sensation
  • Mystery
  • Art/Science
  • Corporeality
  • Connection

Further Reading:

If you enjoyed this post, you should definitely pick up Michael J. Gelb’s book Think Like Da Vinci: 7 Easy Steps to Boosting Your Everyday Genius, it’s a wonderful book and can really open your mind. Also, if you want to gain a better understanding of Da Vinci himself, you can pick up translations of his Notebooks for less than £10.

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Lateral Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Don Draper

So how do you actually get ideas?

The worst thing you can do is to just sit and wait for an idea to come to you.

If your job depends on have a steady stream of ideas, you cannot wait for inspiration to hit you, you really don’t have time for that; you’re getting paid after all.

Most people believe that ideas are something that appear of their own will and that some people are naturally gifted at getting ideas. WRONG.

There is a scientific formula to getting ideas and contrary to how you would imagine – it’s pretty easy to follow.

To look at how to create ideas you first have to know what an idea is. An idea is a new combination of old components.

Ok, that’s all good and well, but how to you achieve a new combination of old components?

The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Young believed that the ability to see relationships between facts is the key element when coming up with ideas. The ability to see relationships IS something that can be learned. And anything that can be learned can be turned into a habit.

How do you develop that ability? By living; taking an interest in your colleagues, the news, spending more time at the library, better observing your world.

I said that there was a scientific formula for creating ideas, so what is the formula? Young outlined in his book “A Technique For Producing Ideas” that it is a 5 step process. However, since he wrote that book in the 1940s, I have observed 2 additional steps which will allow you to create a feedback loop to hone your creativity. This is my:

Seven-Step Formula for Idea Generation

Step 1 – Gather information

To produce ideas, you need information. It is the main ingredient from which you make your ideas. There are 2 types of information which are relevant to this process: general and specific.

As you can guess, general information is everything you ever hear or see or read. It is the information you have collected about the world and people since you were born. This information can be referred to as general knowledge and naturally can be built upon by reading and focusing on the world you live in. Your friends, family and colleagues are the best source of general information. You will find it easy to observes their habits, how they think, behave and live.

Specific information is directly relevant to the topic about which you want an idea. This is the part that most people skip, out of boredom or whatever, but it is the most crucial part. You need to go out to the library and read all the books you can on the subject, search the internet, ask any experts you can find. If you are working for a company and they are providing you with information, that is a good start, but ALWAYS do your own research. If you are advertising a product for example, spend 1 week using that product and you will probably have all the information you need to write about it.

If you’re writing an article for a blog or magazine, you will need to collect your information from much further afield. The internet is a fantastic source of information, but be careful not to collect TOO much information otherwise step 2 will be needlessly tiring.

Step 2 – Think About It

The most common mistake people make when trying to come up with ideas is starting with step 2 instead of step 1. Step 2 is simple; think about it. Every waking second, think about how you can get all the elements from the information you have to fit together. Will a piece of specific information fit together with some general knowledge to produce a new idea? Try many different combinations using all the information you have gathered.

You will produce lots of tiny ideas, which on their own seem pretty useless. Any ideas you get, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem, write them down in a notepad. This notepad will be an archive of ideas and a wonderful reference for future projects.

Twist and turn it in your mind until you are sick to death decide you never want to hear any word that even vaguely reminds you of the subject. Now you are ready for the third step. You’ll like this one, trust me.

Step 3 – Have Fun

The third stage is to simply not think about it anymore. Let your unconscious mind work on it for a time. Go and see a film, read a good fiction book, listen to music, go for a walk, go for drinks with your friends. Do something that allows you to relax and forget the intense thinking session you just had.

The reason good ideas tend to come to people in the shower, or while shaving, are because you’re simply not thinking about it anymore. You’re concentrating on not cutting your face or washing and your subconscious mind is free to wander.

Step 4 – Eureka!

Step 4 is the stage where ideas will start to spring out of nowhere. People who you see having good ideas all the time, are just the ones that have their eureka moments in public, they have already been through the previous 3 steps.

This is the exciting time where idea will jump out at you; remembering to write them all down! The average human memory is not really that brilliant.

OK what if the brilliant ideas just don’t appear? Don’t worry, just write down any ideas you do get. Keep going, 2 of these smaller ideas might fit together nicely to make a big idea.

Step 5 – Shape and develop your idea

Now you have your basic idea, it needs to be formed, built into something real. This where your own talent is key, considering how best to present your idea – in writing, a presentation, a video etc.

Step 6 – Share your idea

Sharing your idea with your friends and colleagues will illuminate any holes in your idea and probably provide the solution in the same breath. Their comments may spark more ideas which help you further develop your idea or they may have great ideas of their own and were inspired by your original idea.

Step 7 – Rinse and repeat

Once you have your feedback, go back to step 2; using all the new information you’ve just received and add it to the information you gathered in step 1. Repeat step 2, sifting the new information with the existing. Then repeat steps 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Keep following this cycle until you have an idea you are happy with or until you hit your deadline, and have to use whatever you have created so far.

To summarise the process:

  • Gather the information
  • Think about it
  • Relax
  • Let the ideas flow
  • Shape the ideas
  • Share your ideas
  • Use the feedback to better improve your idea

You may not believe me, but not the easy part is over. You have to find something to DO with your idea and that is where your talents, skills and profession come into play.

I’d love your feedback on this process and I hope it helps you as much as it has aided me!

Further Reading:

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Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

My first real introduction the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, was in English class at the age of 15 with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Speckled Band. This was followed quickly by The Adventure of the Yellow Face and A Case of Identity.

I was one of the few who was completely enthralled with the detective and has maintained my interest in his methods ever since.

In 2004, Sherlock Holmes (or his skills and attitude) were revived in the form of Dr Gregory House. Not only does House show the same deductive powers, often diagnosing patients at a glance, but he also has his trusty confidant Dr Wilson and displays a strong belief in his own intellectual superiority. To top it off, House lives at apartment 221B.

More recently, the excellent BBC series Sherlock was broadcast in July 2009. This modern retelling featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. The film Sherlock Holmes featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law followed 6 months after.

With the recent reintroduction of Sherlock Holmes into modern culture, more people than ever want to know How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

The quick wits and sharp observational skills of Sherlock Holmes are nothing short of legendary and even though he often expresses a need for his investigations to stick with facts, he would often display a remarkable reliance on his intuition. It was obvious to him that logic and intuition played an equal part in solving the mysteries presented to him.

I wouldn’t be surprised if doubt had crept into your mind. Can a person really learn to think like Sherlock Holmes? After all, he was a fictional character and the stories including all their clues and evidence were planned in advance. Of course, Sherlock knew the cause, because the author did. So let’s take a look at the famed author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

He didn’t pluck Sherlock out of thin air. His creation of the beloved detective was heavily inspired by one of his mentors, surgeon Dr Joseph Bell. Dr Bell constantly challenged his students to use their powers of observation and demonstrated his own prowess when he was able to tell at a glance that a patient was a former NCO (non-commissioned officer) in the Highland regiment who had recently returned from service in Barbados.

You can see the influence of Dr Bell on Sherlock as when he meets John Watson for the first time, this scenario plays out very closely. Sherlock is able to see that Watson is a former army doctor who was recently injured during service in the Middle East.

While Sherlock’s skills were slightly exaggerated for the sake of drama and impressing the reader, it IS possible to emulate these methods as they were inspired by a real person. But if one example alone isn’t enough to convince you, think about Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Doyle used the skills he wrote about to overturn the wrongful conviction of George Edalji, which was instrumental in driving the formation of the first court of appeals.

However, there is something we can’t ignore about Sherlock. Firstly, he’s a fictional character and so he abilities and the frequency in which he uses these abilities are highly exaggerated to make for a more entertaining read.

Secondly, a large part of Sherlock’s abilities is genetic. How do we know this? His elder brother Mycroft. Mycroft Holmes shows the same extraordinary talents that Sherlock does, identical in fact. Such a way of thinking and observing would be difficult to teach two children and would be acquired over a few decades.

It’s been theorised by multiple studies that intelligence is inherited and not a product of upbringing. Studies on adopted siblings who were raised in the same environment show no similarity in their levels of intelligence, whereas related twins and related siblings show much closer levels of intelligence.

Does this mean that you can’t learn to think like Sherlock? Absolutely not. Greater intelligence provides a much better opportunity for learning and using the skills, but doesn’t determine whether or not you can.

Being realistic, you won’t be solving crimes at a few glances like Sherlock, but through the eyes of your friends and colleagues, your methods will be just as impressive.

It’s also worth noting that we’re in a much better position to develop these skills than Doyle. When Doyle first created Sherlock many of the disciplines on which Sherlock’s knowledge is based were in their infancy and some things which are written in the books have since been disproved or revised.

This article has the advantage of being based on the hundred years of research and development that have occurred in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and analysis since Sherlock made his first appearance.

Here are the qualities you need to hone if you want to think more like the great detective:

  • Intuition
  • Observation
  • Listening
  • Logic
  • Humility
  • Open-Mindedness

Develop Your Intuition


There is an evolutionary advantage of being able to spot at a glance who is friends with whom and what a person’s emotional state is. Intuition can be developed by practice and perseverance. Although it isn’t possible to use intuition to solve everything, there are times where listening to our intuition is a useful technique. When drawing conclusions about more “human” things; relationships, connections with others and emotions intuition can be extremely helpful.

Daniel Kahneman’s international bestseller, Thinking Fast and Slow, deals heavily with intuition and is a great primer on the subject.

The book focuses on the 2 states of thinking, which Kahneman labels as systems. System 1 (intuition) is rapid, instinctive and based on emotion. System 2 is slow, deliberate and more logical.

Holmes summarised his intuition like this:

It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact.

Interestingly a large number of people who think of themselves as “logical” thinkers generally prefer system 2. These types of people are generally reliant on facts and evidence but are quick to dismiss intuition and gut-feelings as unscientific and unreliable. System 1 can be in this situation be referred to as intuition.

Intuition is developed through years of practice and experience with a subject until the knowledge has been internalised, similar to learning to drive a car. We all have instinctual feelings and thoughts based on previous experiences we’ve had. Most of this is unconscious and the reason behind a particular feeling or hunch is not easily explained. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, highlights how quickly our brains are able to take in multiple stimuli and in milliseconds come to a conclusion before we’ve consciously examined the situation.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene explains how after intense focus in a discipline (the 10,000-hour rule popularised in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) a person’s brain is physically altered, to the point where instinct and intuition open up a whole new level of thought. With enough study, a person can reach a level where what used to take hours of consideration can be achieved in mere seconds as a feeling or hunch. Sherlock’s great skill can be attributed to his intense focus on the study of people and circumstances.

Eventually, his study would have hit a tipping point where his intuition kicks in and takes over. Holmes summed this up when he stated: “From long habit, the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps”. This happened in an instant and with no effort required from Holmes, which helps to explain why he is so surprised and disappointed that everyone doesn’t see the world the way he does.

Intuition can be a powerful decision-making process if used in conjunction with the facts and evidence available. Almost everyone has made a decision based on a gut-feeling and often the outcomes of these decisions are positive and in some cases, life-saving.

A good way to look at intuition is as an “educated counsellor”. It is our subconscious that powers intuition and the subconscious has access to all our experience and observations (from being born to right now). Our subconscious can see patterns and connections long before we even realise, these connections often manifest in the form of “a gut feeling.” Although intuition cannot alone be relied upon as the sole source of decision-making information, when your hunches and gut-feelings are cross-referenced with the facts, startling conclusions can be drawn.

Learn to deduce facts from studying a person

Just by watching a person, it is sometimes possible to learn how they are feeling. Some people are naturally more skilled at this, most women are better than men as natural selection has favoured women who can quickly read a person’s emotions and intentions.

Luckily, body language can be learned and there a great number of resources for this including thousands of blogs and articles online on the subject. However, if you want to learn from the experts, my recommendations are:

A fantastic way to hone your skills is to a little time every day simply watching people as they go about their day. Good observation can tell you a great deal about a person’s habits, mannerisms and personality. Although there is a lot of guesswork involved in people watching (deliberately, because that’s what makes it fun), you can also try to hone your guesses down to identifying specific behavioural traits and mannerisms that can serve as future reference for you. Zoologist Desmond Morriss wrote a fantastic book on the subject – Peoplewatching.

Just be mindful that reading body language does have its limitations as some people are good actors or deceivers. Sometimes, particularly early on, you will make terrible mistakes, missing and misreading the signals. Make sure that what you are learning from body language is congruent with your other evidence.

Improve your power of observation

Possibly the most remarkable ability Sherlock Holmes possessed, was his observation of things that other people missed; he often stated: “You see, but you do not observe.”

Being observant is about slowing down and taking the time to look at the small details which are often overlooked. Increasingly, people rush around, spend little time observing and make assumptions based on obvious things, without considering the fine details.

You can increase your powers of observation using several methods, each of which requires practice:

The Senses

Focus on improving your sight, smell, and sound, the most commonly used senses. Because we are so used to using these senses, we often take them for granted and make assumptions about what they perceive. Fine tune and refine these 3 main senses, before focusing on touch and taste. Highly-attuned senses will give you a greater variety of information to consider.

Learn to discriminate against details that have no value. Focus on details that are relevant and significant “It is the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital.” However, make sure not to ignore the smallest details, Holmes makes it clear that “The little things are infinitely the most important.”

Practice with spotting style puzzles. Puzzles that ask you to find the difference between different images, puzzles that ask you to find hidden words and images and puzzles that require you to navigate through mazes are all ways of honing your observation powers. Practice these frequently and time yourself to find things faster and faster without panicking.

Quick quiz yourself and start learning to pay more observational attention to your surroundings. An example of such observations “Think of your grandparents’ house. Is it a two-floored house? If so, how many steps are there? How many bedrooms? Which floors are the bedrooms on? How many beds are there in the house? Which rooms are the beds in?” If you don’t know, you see, but don’t observe; in short, teach yourself to take in all the detail you can.

Additionally, if you can stay calm and think clearly under pressure, you already have an advantage over others.

Good-ListenerBe a Better Listener

Most of us don’t listen because we are too arrogant, selfish, lazy, preoccupied or think we are sure what the speaker is trying to say.

Listening is an art and its importance can never be overestimated. Sherlock Holmes was a master artist. When a person you’re speaking to recalls everything you’ve said to them, you feel like either they possess an incredible memory or they care a great deal. Either assumption has good results for the listener.

What can sometimes seem like a great feat of magic is often a result of a great combination of concentration, courtesy and memory.

A good listener will hear not only the words that the person is saying but the meaning behind them and also the meaning of what is not said. For many reasons, politeness, social pressure etc. people often disguise their true meaning in metaphor or simply omit the message altogether. What is left out often holds more details than what is verbalised.

Never underestimate anyone. People often assume that their thoughts are more connected and complex than others. Holmes was quick to recognise and acknowledge the complexity of others –

A complex mind. All great criminals have that.

Never try to oversimplify the motivations of another person and give credit to where it is due.

A lot of good information can come from “simple” sources e.g. magazines, tabloids, gossip. Do not let your ego get the better of you. Such simple sources are a gateway to how the majority of people think.  Sherlock Holmes was an avid reader of Agony Aunt columns in the paper and clearly used this as a source of information about how people tick!  Soak up and consider everything and don’t be an intellectual snob or you’ll be throwing away a great deal of usable information.

Understand How to Read a Situation:

  • See. What is happening?
  • Observe. What do you notice that is different; a stain, a crease?
  • Deduce. What does this imply?

Use LogicIf-Then

Simply defined, logic is the study of valid reasoning. Logic is drastically underused and combined with fine observation and skilled listening will allow you to gather information and come to accurate conclusions.

As mentioned earlier, intuition is incredibly useful but should always be supported by logic and factual analysis. Sometimes, just going with your gut feeling and ignoring facts will lead to mere speculation.

Holmes advised

It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgement

Pay attention to his warning and be sure to apply evidence to your theories.

For example You observe stain in your friend’s shirt. What kind of stain is it? Food? Logically that means he’s careless. What? You know for sure that he’s very tidy and neat? Then logically he was in a hurry to get out of the house. Why? Is he on time for every class or meeting? Of course, he is, since he’s very tidy and neat, so what happened? Maybe he overslept. So you go to him or her and ask, “Did you oversleep today?” If you’re right, have fun with the reaction! So, the train of thought is; stain – food – he’s tidy – hurrying – oversleep.

Analyse Situations Using a Step-by-Step Process

Holmes was good at a process of elimination, a process by which he would dispose of the unlikely, the illogical, the uncertain, and cut narrow theories to reach what he believed to be the only logical conclusion.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

The process used goes like this:

      • Twist theories to suit facts and instead of facts to suit theories. Use established, measurable and proven facts to develop your theory. If the facts mean that parts of your theory are no longer suitable, discard that part of the theory. If you ignore the fact and persevere with you existing theory, you will inevitably come to a false conclusion.
      • Who is benefiting? Find a motive; greed, anger, jealousy, lust etc. Don’t forget to include positive motives too – protection of another, guarding of a reputation, generosity etc.
      • How did they do what they did? E.g. How did he enter the building without leaving a trace? How did she manage to move the box on her own? How did she get to the meeting first even though she doesn’t drive?
      • As mentioned, keep working on the details; most people, be they criminals, detectives, or the average person, do not observe all the details and this is how they are caught or found out.
      • Go through who, when, what, where, and why facts.

Holmes’s straightforward principles largely follow:

“If ‘P’, then Q’.”

‘P’ is observed evidence and ‘Q’ is what the evidence indicates.

But there are also, midway steps. In “A Scandal in Bohemia” Holmes deduces that Watson had got very wet lately and that he had “a most clumsy and careless servant girl”. When Watson asks how Holmes knows this, Holmes answers:

It is simplicity itself … My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavery.

In this case, Holmes used several connected ideas:

      • If leather on the side of a shoe is scored by several parallel cuts, it was caused by someone who scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud.
      • If a London doctor’s shoes are scraped to remove crusted mud, the person who so scraped them is the doctor’s servant girl.
      • If someone cuts a shoe while scraping it to remove encrusted mud, that person is clumsy and careless.
      • If someone’s shoes had encrusted mud on them, then they are likely to have been worn by him in the rain, when it is likely he became very wet.

By applying such principles in an obvious way), Holmes is able to infer from his observation that if P – “the sides of Watson’s shoes are scored by several parallel cuts” then Q – “Watson’s servant girl is clumsy and careless” and “Watson has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather”.

This method is, however, not infallible. At the end of “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”, Holmes tells Watson;

If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.

As with everything, never use one method or piece of evidence in isolation.


Humility is an attractive quality in anyone and if you master deductive reasoning, jealousy will surround you, so don’t brag about your methods. The common cliché “A magician never reveals his secrets” fits wonderfully into this scenario.

In ”A Study in Scarlet”, Holmes explained: “You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

Sherlock didn’t believe that knowing the methods of his deduction brought benefit to anyone. In fact, he understood that revealing the manner of his deduction would dispel the effectiveness and entertainment of what he did.

Sherlock-HolmesWalk a Friend/Colleague Through Your Conclusions

This practice is another feature that Holmes and Dr House have in common. Holmes has Watson and House has Wilson (even their names are similar!)

Both Dr House and Sherlock Holmes trusted only a few people, and only once they have proved their trustworthiness and loyalty.

Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person. Make sure you talk through your conclusions with someone you trust. Dr. House would use both Wilson and his “team” to bounce ideas off of each other.

In almost every case, some irrelevant phrase spoken by one these trusted people would trigger a thought which would lead to the right conclusion, or diagnosis in Dr. House’s case.

Keep an Open Mind

It may be that talking your theory through with another person will spark new ideas that can be incorporated into your conclusion or may even replace your original theory.  It’s also possible that another person may disagree with your inferences and proposes a different equally logical theory.

While it may seem that what you see before is incredibly simple and clear, appearances can be deceiving. Sherlock Holmes was well aware of this and used it to his advantage in unscrambling a myriad of possibilities which cannot be explained solely by what you can see and hear.

Holmes knew to balanced intuition with logic, he drew conclusions from details and he listened carefully.

Yet, he also kept an open mind and accepted that some possibilities may yet be unexplained

Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.

Some things exist that are difficult to explain and it pays to open to all manner of possibility in this scenario (e.g. the existent of one or more deities).

Make Sure You Have Fun

One of the key factors people tend to forget when trying to solve a problem or come up with an idea is to STOP thinking about it. Holmes worked incredibly hard when investigating, but he understood the importance of leisure and relaxation. Often, Sherlock would take Watson to an opera half-way through an investigation. When you relax, your subconscious begins to whir away behind the scenes, creating connections between your subject of study and other aspects of your knowledge and experience. This is why some of the greatest ideas can come in the shower or when going for a walk. Constantly thinking and pushing your intuition can be exhausting, so taking time to recover is essential to ensure you can remain sharp and focused.

Key Points

      • Observing body language is a great way to learn more about a situation, but 20% of the time body language will be misleading. Trust it too much and you’ll likely make some big mistakes.
      • Don’t rush into making decisions before you’ve considered all available evidence. Reflect on the facts multiple times. Fast decisions often come from instinct and past experience or training. Give yourself plenty of time to analyse all the facts and come to a conclusion.
      • Don’t share your ideas until you are a 99% sure you’re right. If you end up making an odd prediction based only on intuition and no evidence and the situation ends up being completely different, you may be seen as unreliable and too quick to judge
      • Most importantly, try not to overlook anything, no matter how small. Also ALWAYS use a combination of evidence, intuition and logic to come to a conclusion. Never rely on a sole source of information or an isolated method.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about thinking like Sherlock Holmes, these 3 books are probably the best next steps you can take:

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