Week 9

Advanced techniques in reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening

"Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - JOHN F. KENNEDY

"No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew." - ALBERT EINSTEIN

"The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” (Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson).


See week 8 on Critical Thinking.

The critical element in listening, reading, and thinking is an open mind. In all people there is a tension between free inquiry and conformity/dogma/orthodoxy. You are taught orthodoxy from infancy. Do what you're told. Don't question authority. A great deal of research has been done showing that our strongest instinct is always to obey authority, to follow orthodoxy.

One famous experiment had people enter a pretend lab (they didn't know it was pretend). Another person was hooked up to a pretend electrical source and when told by an authority figure in a lab coat the subject hit the shock button. They were told to progressively increase the amount of electricity, despite cries and pleas for mercy from the pretend experimental subject. Most people would kill the person rather than question the authority figure.

Our problem, therefore, is to keep an open mind and question authority. A very difficult thing to do given our conditioning from infancy.

Groupthink -- One pernicious phenomenon is groupthink. We want to think like everyone else, so we assume the attitude which we think everyone else will assume. This may be entirely fallacious. The result is that everyone ends up thinking the wrong thing. The typical example is a committee which ends up with a conclusion or answer which no one wants but everyone thinks everyone else wants.

Stimulating Conflict and Debate -- When working in a group, the best approach is to stimulate conflict and debate. This will counteract group think. If you are not the leader of the committee, this may also lead to the conclusion that you are a troublemaker.

Instigating Metanoia can bring some wonderful and surprising results. Be sure to read the entire link.

Another pernicious aspect of working in committees is the tendency to assume that taking a vote is the best way to arrive at a conclusion. But what if the majority is wrong? It is better to seek consensus. [For more on consensus, look up Quaker decision making.]

Creativity and Brainstorming -- Brainstorming is the uninhibited suggestion of every possible conclusion, no matter how ridiculous. This step is often skipped in committees, with the result that the best answers are never even considered. [Google brainstorming and read more.]

Seeking Out Problems -- In organizations, problems are often ignored or even actively denied. The best way of finding them is to keep an active dialogue with as many people at the bottom as possible. The people on the front line know the problems much better than the people at the top.

Another good technique is asking for everyones' input at planning time.


Reading, like collection development, should include all viewpoints. Although hard to read, this will often give you new perspectives.

Information and Study Skills. Open and study each of the links except the last one to subscribe to the newsletter (unless you want to).


Listening, like thinking, should be done with an open mind. This is a very difficult skill to attain.

"Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom." — Chip Bell

"We should never pretend to know what we don't know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders." — Mao Tse-tung

"It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn't want to hear." — Dick Cavett


Speaking is a difficult area because so seldom is our mind engaged when our mouth is speaking. Several rules on speaking:

Improve Your Communication Skills. Open and read each link except the last section called "next steps".

"If you wouldn't write it and sign it, don't say it." ~Earl Wilson

"Be sincere; be brief; be seated." ~Franklin D. Roosevelt, on speechmaking


A good writer is a reader of good writing. The more you read really good writing, the better writer you will become. Many experts recommend that you purchase a good style book.

Editing for Clarity Read carefully.

Improving Your Writing Read Carefully.

Written Communication Read carefully.

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

"I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top." ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University

Some Suggested Readings

Some titles may well be replaced with more recent titles.

Armstrong, William H. Study Is Hard Work. Boston: David R. Godine, 1995.

Benton, D.A. Lions Don't Need to Roar: Using the Leadership Power of Professional Presence to Stand Out, Fit In, and Move Ahead. NY: Warner Books, 1992.

Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

Downs, Robert B. Books That Changed the World. NY: Signet, 1956.

Fuller, George. The Negotiators's Handbook. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1991.

Lakoff, George. Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.

Molloy, John T. New Women's Dress For Success. NY: Grand Central Publishing, 1996.

Peale, Norman Vincent. The Power Of Positive Thinking. NY: Barnes & Noble, 2009.

Pearsall, Paul. The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be A Good Blamer, and Throttle Your Inner Child. NY: Perseus Publishing, 2005. A psychologist uses contrarian scientific thinking to critique self-help ideas.

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. NY: Doubleday, 1990.

Sheeran, Michael J. Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, 1983.

Weiss, W.H. Decision Making For First-Time Managers. NY: American Management Association, 1985.


Once you have completed all the readings for this week, please return to Canvas, click on the quiz link, and take the quiz. If you are not satisfied with your score, take the quiz over again. This can be done multiple times.

Once you have taken the quiz and achieved a grade with which you are satisfied, return to Canvas and address the Discussions topic for the week.

Colby Glass, MLIS