Higher order thinking — a lesson from the art of war

The Art of Word by Sun Tzu, written 2500 years ago, is an impressive example of higher order thinking in practice.

What is higher order thinking?

A kind of thinking that goes beyond thinking of a solution to an immediate problem.

A kind of thinking that considers the the impact of each solution with its consequence, this is second order thinking.

A kind of thinking that considers the multitude of solutions that becomes available as a second course of action following those consequence.

A kind of thinking that further considers the impact of those solutions with its consequence, this is third order thinking.

The number of scenarios to think grows as one venture to another higher order. The impact of higher order thinking is that decisions made will all have a higher chance of success. Sun Tzu applies this thinking through his work, and was able to conceive rules that was highly applicable during his time and context.

To see what others cannot see is a remarkable skill, as Sun Tzu teaches. To use higher order thinking means to be deliberately ask, ‘then what?’, to consider all the forces holistically that influences a situation. I am in awe with one of the teaching that rings with that thought,

Those whose achievement come from seeing what is obvious do not show true excellence. The real standard of excellence is set by those who see the separate parts of a problem developing and who are able to avert the problem before other realise it even exists. Therefore, it is folly to praise a general who has just retuned victorious from a hard campaign, as the general should have found a way to avoid the campaign becoming so difficult in the first place.

I believe individuals that accomplished extraordinary intellectual achievements, be it Thomas Edison, Einstein, Newton, Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, all posses a strong ability to think in higher orders.

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