How to think magically.

by Sarah Nally

When was the last time that you spent some time thinking about thinking? Are you aware of how you think? How you best think? How to hack your thinking?

"The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge."

Before we start - let's look at the definitions of THINKING and MAGIC to understand how we might think magically.

thinking \ˈthiŋ-kiŋ\


The process of considering or reasoning about something."the selectors have some thinking to do before the match"


Using thought or rational judgement; intelligent."he seemed a thinking man"

magic \ˈma-jik\


The power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces."suddenly, as if by magic, the doors start to open"

  • Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and reappear, performed as entertainment."his parents bought him a magic set for Christmas"
  • A quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life."the magic of the theatre"
  • INFORMAL exceptional skill or talent."he's been working his magic on New Zealand movies for the past two decades"


  1. Having or apparently having supernatural powers."a magic wand", "confidence is the magic ingredient needed to spark recovery"
  2. INFORMAL•BRITISH wonderful; exciting."it was a great time, magic"

Our ability to reason, to use thought to create rational judgement or discover correct insights or solutions is one of the things that has allowed our species to evolve. When was the last time you thought about thinking?

You may be aware of your Myers briggs type indicator, a self-report questionnaire to understand how people perceive the world and make decisions - but it is certainly not an all encompassing profile of how you may think.

Now before we go on, I think we should do a little research to understand some of the 'styles' or 'types' of thinking.

1st Principles thinking - "A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle defined a first principle as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” First principles thinking is a fancy way of saying “think like a scientist.”

Critical thinking - "Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings."

Creative thinking - "Creative thinking is: A way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions (which may look unsettling at first). Creative thinking can be stimulated both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking."

Analogy thinking - "Analogical reasoning is any type of thinking that relies upon an analogy. An analogical argument is an explicit representation of a form of analogical reasoning that cites accepted similarities between two systems to support the conclusion that some further similarity exists."

Philosophical thinking - "Philosophy is a way of thinking about the world, the universe, and society. It works by asking very basic questions about the nature of human thought, the nature of the universe, and the connections between them. The ideas in philosophy are often general and abstract."

Systems Thinking - "Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems."

Convergent Thinking - "Convergent thinking is a term coined by Joy Paul Guilford as the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the "correct" answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity, for instance in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice tests for intelligence."

Divergent Thinking - "Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, "non-linear" manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. Following divergent thinking, ideas and information are organized and structured using convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a "correct" solution.

Design Thinking - "Design thinking refers to the cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts (proposals for new products, buildings, machines, etc.) are developed by designers and/or design teams. Many of the key concepts and aspects of design thinking have been identified through studies, across different design domains, of design cognition and design activity in both laboratory and natural contexts."

So how might we think more magically?

We are all capable of different styles of thinking and we are capable of learning new processes for considering, reasoning or coming up with solutions to problems. I have loved Design Thinking as a way of considering, reasoning or coming up with solutions to problems. I love magical thinking as a way of ensuring that the solutions and considerations are above average... or magical to be more precise. So what is magical thinking?

Well, I made it up. First I looked at what thinking is, took time to understand “the first basis from which a thing is known.” I looked at the different styles and processes (critical thinking) for considering, reasoning and coming up with solutions to problems and I thought about the experiences I have had over the last 8 years as a Design Thinking coach (using analogy thinking) and then I allowed my mind to wander to think about how I might mash together the 'best of' the thinking styles to unleash the wonder (because really magic is just novel/uncommon/unexpected/out of the world/off the planet sort of wonder)... (creative or divergent thinking) to philosophise or think about what the future of thinking may invite... and I came up with this:

  1. Define the starting point - really define it, remove bias, understand the meaning behind the start point.
  2. Analyse inputs that may influence or inform your judgment - research, read, put some information in your brain.
  3. Give yourself permission to think creatively and in a fresh and unorthodox way!
  4. Let yourself bring analogies and stories into the mix.
  5. Allow free flowing thoughts.
  6. Collapse the particles down in a serious convergent show down to discover some answers or insights...

There you go.... a formula for magical thinking... enjoy.

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