We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.  Albert Einstein

When working with clients it often emerges that the quality of their thinking is causing blocks to desired progress. Our focus then switches to better understanding how the client processes information and makes decisions to help move forward.


Common to all subjects and levels is the concept of higher and lower order thinking skills. Higher order skills are considered to be more complex than lower order skills. The triangle model provides a useful way to visualise the relationships between some of the key skills. The complexity of the skills increases from the base to the top of the list below

Although the skills are arranged in a hierarchical way, they are all important. Much of the thinking we do involves a mixture of skills at different levels. We develop and use them simultaneously, for example, when we are solving problems and analysing case studies.

It is possible to extend and develop higher order thinking skills – to develop thinking at a qualitatively higher level, to move into a higher gear.

The specific skills in each area are shown in this list  here:

Evaluate           judge, appraise, choose, rate, assess, estimate, value, measure, criticise

Synthesise      formulate, teach, design, develop, re-define, propose, create

Analyse           distinguish, differentiate, calculate, debate, relate, compare, experiment, contrast, examine

Apply             demonstrate, schedule, operate, sketch, employ, use, practice

Comprehend  restate, identify, discuss, locate, recognise, review, explain, tell, clarify

Know             recall, define, state, list, repeat, name, recount, present, find



Activity 1 Complete a simple audit covering the ways you think

Personal statements Always Sometimes Never
I see myself as open and fair minded.
I am curious to find out about things.
I am really interested in a specific subject
I relate ideas to previous knowledge, experience and wider contexts
I look for patterns and relationships between things.
I like to ask questions and not accept things at face value
I don’t rush to make judgements or have opinions on things.
I like to look at all sides of an argument or issues before coming to a conclusion
I am persistent and like to get to the bottom of things.
I don’t like situations where people just state opinions without giving reasons or evidence
I like to find things out for myself and come to my own conclusions on things
I like to be creative and innovative.
I take time to reflect on things/my own thinking
I like clarity, order and precision
I think strategically about things
Any statement you wish to add
Any statement you wish to add

Activity 2 Use the table again to map where you would like to be and consider the gapsand then reflect on any learning gained using the table below

Reflection – what I have noticed? Action – what I will do?
What have you learned in terms of potential limitations?Do the limitations matter right now in your life?/if so consider next step actions……
What have you noticed in terms of strengths?Do you want to develop these strengths further?Consider what you might do to achieve this


The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. A person cannot help but be in awe when they contemplate the mystery of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one merely tries to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

(Albert Einstein)

  1. Questions to develop skills at different levels of thinking
Knowledge and understanding What? Who? When?What is an example of x?What is meant by …..?

What is another way of explaining..?

Is this an example of …?

Can I describe x in my own words?

Application How is it used?What does it relate to?In what situations …?
Analysis Why? How?What is the reason for ….. ?What evidence is there to support the conclusion?

What are the causes of …?

How do … fit together?

Synthesis If x happens, then what next?What does the theory predict will happen?What are my own conclusions on the basis of the information available?

How does x relate to y?

Evaluation Is this good or not and why?Is this reasonable or not and why?


Two common thinking problems are: a feeling of not being able to ‘see the wood for the trees’, and difficulty in being logical and orderly. The key to solving them is being able to think about ideas and information in a conceptual and systematic way so that you have ways to structure your thinking.

This can involve:

  • looking at the broader context
  • developing mental models and frameworks to hang ideas and information on
  • Being able to distinguish relative importance and seeing patterns and relationships.

Other ways might be based on:

  • chronology,
  • complexity,
  • spatial organisation,
  • positive and negative aspects,
  • pros and cons,
  • familiar and unfamiliar,
  • from top to bottom of an organisational structure.

In some cases, the component parts of something work together to form a system, for example arteries, veins and capillaries work together to form the blood circulatory system in the body.





For example, the DANCE system (Rose and Nicholl, 1997) is one of many tools for solving problems.

D – Define and clarify what the problem really is (sometimes it is not initially clear). What are your goals?

A – Think of a range of alternative ways of solving the problem.

N – Narrow down the range of possible solutions to leave the best.

C – Choose the ideal solution and check what the consequences might be.

E – Effect action using the best solution.






Organising thought can be assisted greatly by the use of visual tools.

These can include:

  • diagrams,
  • mind-maps,
  • tables,
  • graphs, time lines,
  • flow charts,
  • sequence diagrams,
  • decision trees
  • story boards
  • rich pictures
  • or other visual representations.

The process of making visual representations can itself involve using and developing a range of thinking skills, particularly higher order skills. So, whether you need the resulting product or not they can be worth doing. However, the resulting product can also provide an effective way of communicating your thinking to others. In fact, sometimes it can be very hard not to use a diagram – drawing or referring to a map, for example, makes it much easier to give directions.

Mind-mapping can be a particularly powerful visual tool for shaping thought. The basic principle here is to note down the central topic or idea in the centre of a piece of paper and work outwards adding the points which flow from and connect to it. It is particularly helpful for seeing the different

levels of thought.  Here is a mind map example by someone planning to write an essay on memory.


 .At this stage, you may find it useful to consider how ideas like these can be put together in ways that will help you when you engage in activities such as reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Here is a checklist to use when making judgements about things that you hear, see and experience.

  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • What is their point of view or perspective?
  • What ideas and information are presented and how were they obtained?
  • Are there unsupported assertions?
  • Are reasons or evidence provided?
  • Are the reasons and evidence given relevant?
  • Is the method used to find the evidence sound?
  • Is the evidence correct or valid?
  • What assumptions have been made?
  • What is fact and what is opinion?
  • What are the implicit and explicit values?
  • Are there unreasonable generalisations?
  • What has been omitted?
  • How was the conclusion reached?
  • Is the conclusion reasonable?
  • What other perspectives or points of view could there be?
  • You may be able to think of more points to add to this list.


RESOURCES -more insights

Listening Skills


Thinking Errors

Thinking Skills

We Are Our Thoughts

9 Mind blowing epiphanies

Critical Thinking – check your style and reasoning

10 Things To Stop Doing Now

Developing Resilience




IMG_1573 Peter Cobbe Coaching

  • NOW ACCEPTING NEW CLIENTS : Coaching via Skype / Facetime / 1 to 1 meetingsMy career experience includes HR Director and senior executive roles in Barclays plc and Tesco plc leading major transformation and complex change programmes reporting at Board level .I have an MBA, BA and I am a member of the CIPD and Association for Coaching. I am an accredited coach with over 12 years of private client coaching experience and as an associate consultant with Penna (UK) dealing with career, life,executive and business coaching and counselling. I work in mentoring and coaching partnerships with executives to help achieve gains of importance to them.I help people of all ages, different cultures and job levels to understand more about themselves, their impact on others and how to develop across major dimensions in life.
    I respect the integrity and confidentiality of my clients building on their existing great skills and abilities and evolving enhanced self guidance : ” No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities.”Specialties: Holistic / systemic approach to coaching
    Remote coaching via Skype and Apple Facetime
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    First 100 days
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Just a thought :

Five frogs are sitting on a log.
Four decide to jump off. How many are left? 

Answer: five. Why? Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing.

Mark Feldman

For a free exploratory discussion on 1 to 1 or Group Session coaching contact me on:


via  my Linked In Profile


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