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Essential skills for understanding and making progress.

For better or worse, we all now experience progress. Technological, medical, economic and social progress are part of modern life. New, faster, smaller, cheaper products are being developed and sold to us. Even people in the most remote areas of the planet are affected. It is a huge force in our lives, but do we understand it? Is the dream of progress waxing or waning? Do we control progress, or does it control us?

This website focuses on The Mechanics of Progress: what factors drive progress and how they work together. You can think of progress as being like a car engine. The car is designed to transport you to your destination, but it is the engine that provides the power. An engine has components such as a starter motor, lubrication system, etc. Each component provides a discrete function and benefit, but the power of the engine comes from all of these parts working together.

The website follows the same pattern. Each section of the site is a component of the engine and offers essential tools, skills, and advice.

Continuing the metaphor, this website uses a symbol to represent the engine of progress. Each section is a component of the engine and a part of the symbol. The sections build on each other and the symbol pulls them together to provide a single narrative. You move around the labels of the symbol a little like you would move around the numbers on a clock face and each part offers essential tools, skills and advice.

The following summary gives you an idea of how the symbol works and provides a structure.

The label on the top of the symbol is Goal. It is at the top of the symbol because having an objective determines your direction, creates context and defines what you should measure progress against. Once you know where you are going, you can measure your progress towards your destination. So, in a sense, the goal defines progress.

In order to achieve anything, you need to have an idea of what you want to do. As Kwame Nkrumah said, “Action without thought is empty.” The top inner circle represents the world of ideas. It is intertwined with the physical world, representing the process of applying an idea and the resulting changes in the physical world due to the idea’s application.

Progress is about the future: ‘Life must be lived forwards’(Søren Kierkegaard). You set an objective for some point in the future and then work towards it. For an idea to be useful and help it must make a prediction. It must tell you something about the future you are interested in. However, just like the weather forecast. It is not enough to just make a prediction - anyone can do that - the forecast has to be accurate, and reliable.

Progress needs truth or to put it the other way round if you apply false ideas you are very unlikely to make progress and much more likely to regress. The next two labels of the symbol are about the truth.  The first focuses on testing the truth. Ideas that predict some events and exclude others can be physically tested. You can check that they are logically consistent and how accurate and reliable their predictions are.

Results that match the prediction support an idea’s truth and those that contradict it indicate it is untrue.  Progress need truth, so it is important to be honest about the results. All the results are relevant but negative results are particularly significant, and they should not be discarded. However, it is very human only to look for supporting results, and this temptation needs to resisted.

In theory, the test results should decide the truth and what you believe: seeing is believing. However, people often have a preconceived belief and the new evidence may not be compelling. The challenge is that progress needs us to be open to new evidence. As each result comes in belief needs to be updated. If it is more supporting evidence, then our belief becomes a little stronger. However, if the evidence contradicts our current belief, then we need to give it more significance and reduce our level of belief accordingly. More and more supporting evidence may be reassuring, but it is not very informative. You might already have been very confident an idea was right, and now you are ever so slightly more confident. In the practical world, this increase makes no difference to how you will act. However, negative results are much more significant and informative. Just one completely unexpected result can question the truth of the idea. Although it may be unsettling, we learn more from negative results.

Either way, once you believe an idea is true and can help you the next thing to consider is how to apply it. Progress is largely a social enterprise: people working together towards a shared goal. In a social enterprise, individuals need to discuss and agree on the goal, test and agree which ideas will help, develop an implementation plan and then work together to apply it. The team that forms in this process is much more effective than uncooperative individuals and can achieve great things.    
Having introduced the key parts of the progress, if you now take a step back and look at the symbol as a whole, new features emerge: 

  • One top level goal can be split into sub-goals. Each sub-goal can have its own set of ideas for achieving the goal. The symbol can be used within itself or nested.
  • The symbol describes a self-correcting process. Ideas are physically tested, and those that fail are eliminated.
  • Ideas and actions build on themselves. There is a cumulative effect with each new idea and application opening adjacent possibilities.

In conclusion, the maximum rate of progress is achieved when all the components of the engine of progress work together and overall progress is how far the application of the idea moves you towards the goal.

All together they help you to understand progress and to achieve your goals.
. There are three key sections:
  • Creative Thinking Tools - to help you become more creative and have fun with your imagination.
  • Critical Thinking Tools - to sharpen your critical thinking, identify useful ideas and eliminate the ideas that are holding you back.
  • Value Creation Tools - to help you apply ideas and create something of value to yourself and others.
 Creative Thinking
 Critical Thinking
 Creating Value
5 WhysAnatomy of an ArgumentCumulative Value
Brainstorming Logic and Logical Fallacies Decision Making
Concept Fan

Mind Mapping
Six Thinking Hats

Random Word Stimulation                      

Why is this important: Better Thinking = Better Results = Better Life