Two Modes of Thinking


The two modes of thinking were first popularized by Professor Barbara Oakley in her book, “A Mind For Numbers.”  In it, she talks about how we exist in one mode or the other and switch between them. The modes are

  • Focused
  • Diffuse

Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison both used a really interesting technique to boost their creative thinking and form more associations/connections.

How Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison Used the Thinking Modes Framework

Dali would hold a spoon in his hand and rest. As soon as he would fall asleep, he’d drop the spoon, it’d clatter on the ground and wake him up. In his relaxed state, he was making connections and able to have inspiration for his art. By waking up before he went through deeper sleep, he could immediately work on whatever his mind concocted and pull the day dream into a canvas.

Edison would do something similar with metal ball bearings in his hand. He’d relax and rock back in his chair, loosely thinking of a problem he was trying to solve. When he’d fall asleep, he’d let go of the metal balls and their noise would wake him up. Edison could now break the dream and bring those free associations and connections into his work and try approaches to the problem.

You see, your brain is in a different brain wave state throughout the parts of your day. There are the alpha, beta, theta, and delta states. I talk a little more about those in this youtube video.