Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt

Rating: 9/10

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Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt

Rating: 9/10

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High-Level Thoughts

Probably the best, non-charlatanic book on improving your thinking that I’ve found. I only wish I’d found it sooner.

Summary Notes

This is a book about changing how you think and learn. It’s excellent, and overdelivers on that promise. Here I’ll try to clarify some of the most important pieces.

There are also some “recipes” that the author supplies, which I’ll list up here


  • Always consider the context. Everything is a part of a system, and you can get into trouble by only considering things in isolation.
  • Use rules for novices, intuition for experts. This is one of the core principles of the Dreyfus skill model.
  • Know what you don’t know, be humble about your understanding and assume you don’t have a complete understanding or the full picture.
  • Learn by watching and imitating, not by being lectured at.
  • Keep practicing in order to remain an expert.
  • Avoid formal methods if you need creativity, intuition, or inventiveness.
  • Learn the skill of learning.
  • Capture all of your ideas, such as in a notebook, to get more of them.
  • Strive for good design, it really works better.
  • The more senses you engage in a task, the more involved and focused your brain will be. Fiddling, music, walking, etc.
  • Step away from the keyboard from time to time to solve hard problems, you need the space to let your background processes figure out the problems you’re encountering.
  • Change your viewpoint to solve the problem: look at it in reverse, exaggerate it to the extreme, change your point of reference.
  • Watch for outliers: rarely doesn’t mean never.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty.
  • Trust ink over memory, every mental read is a write.
  • Hedge your bets with diversity.
  • Allow for different bugs in different people.
  • Act like you’ve evolved, breathe, don’t hiss.
  • Trust intuition, but verify.
  • Create SMART objectives to reach your goals.
  • Plan your investment in learning deliberately and developing your mind.
  • Discover how you learn best, it might not be like other people.
  • Form study groups to learn and teach.
  • Read deliberately.
  • To learn better: see it, do it, and teach it.
  • Play more in order to learn more.
  • Learn from similarities, unlearn from differences.
  • Explore, invent, and apply in your environment—safely.
  • See without judging and then act.
  • Give yourself permission to fail; it’s the path to success.
  • Groove your mind for success through envisioning it.
  • Learn to pay attention.
  • Make thinking time.
  • Use a personal wiki to organize your knowledge and learning.
  • Establish rules of engagement to manage interruptions.
  • Send less email and you’ll receive less.
  • Choose your own tempo for an email conversation, you can slow it down.
  • Hide interruptions to maintain focus.
  • Use multiple monitors to avoid context switching.
  • Optimize your personal workflow to maximize context.
  • Grab the wheel, you can’t steer on autopilot.

Other Notes

You can’t just rely on a good teacher. A teacher doesn’t just teach, a student must also do the learning, and you must know how to learn effectively.

A lot of the book focuses on the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. I enjoyed that so much that I dedicated a whole article to it which you can read here .

The book also focuses a lot on Deliberate practice. I have a big guide to that , too, which will be more helpful than re-summarizing his notes here.

Cubicles cure neurons. Part of why we thoughts you couldn’t grow new neurons is that the people being studied were in dull environments, but if you’re in an exciting environment where you’re thriving, neuron growth is quite natural.

Uncorrected problems that you’re aware of only get worse. Fix them as soon as possible.

Questions to ask yourself to challenge your intuition:

  • How do you know?
  • Says who?
  • How specifically?
  • How does what I’m doing cause you to…?
  • Compared to what or whom?
  • Does it always happen?
  • Can you think of an exception?
  • What would happen if you did (or didn’t)?
  • What stops you from…?

The planning is more important than the plan. Just because your plan is likely to change doesn’t mean planning isn’t valuable.

Use the SQ3R method to make reading more effective:

  • Survey: Scan the table of contents and chapter summaries for an overview.
  • Question: Note any questions you have.
  • Read: Read in its entirety.
  • Recite: Summarize, take notes, and put in your own words.
  • Review: Reread, expand notes, and discuss with colleagues.

The rule of three: If you can’t think of three ways a plan can go wrong or three different solution to a problem, then you haven’t thought about it hard enough.

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