Each year since 1998 the Edge Foundation sets a question and asks a number of the world’s leading intellectuals to provide responses. I thought that this year’s question was particularly interesting since it dealt with a subject very close to the world of learning and performance: what scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

There are over 150 contributions so far and many are worth reading to get some new, and not so new, ideas to help bolster your own cognitive toolkit. I thought that the following contributions were particularly valuable suggestions:

Don Tapscott: Designing Your Mind (building on the idea of neuroplasticity)

Daniel Goleman: Anthropocene Thinking (the impact of humans on the Earth)

Jonah Lehrer: Control Your Spotlight (the importance of controlling our attention)

Sue Blackmore: Correlation is not a cause (the most important misused statistical concept of all)

Roger Schank: Experimentation (not the stuff you do at school; real experimentation)

Nicholas Carr: Cognitive Load (understanding the limits of our brains to become more effective)

Steven Pinker: Positive-Sum Games (praising the long-term benefits of win-win transactions)

Richard Thaler: Aether (a concept to describe something we don’t understand … yet)

Richard Dawkins: The Double-Blind Control Experiment (a key tool to aid critical thinking)

Howard Gardner: How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?! (a simple question with profound implications)

Daniel Kahneman: Focusing Illusion “Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It”

An awareness of bias

The whole series is worth skimming to identify those articles that pique your interest. It’s proved to be a fertile ground for me in unearthing new and interesting concepts that I’d like to look into further. One concept that wasn’t dealt with specifically that I’d add to the list in is the concept of bias. Richard Dawkins’ response mentions bias as one of the byproducts of learning about the double-blind control experiment, saying:

“We would learn how extremely difficult it is to eliminate subjective bias, and that subjective bias does not imply dishonesty or venality of any kind.”

Admitting that you’re biased is difficult, particularly in a culture where it’s often seen as a conscious decision. The sooner we accept that we’re all biased, the sooner we can move on and work towards eliminating the impact of those biases and make better decisions.

I’ve written about bias before, but it’s an important concept, particularly in the world of learning and development since we’re often asked to act in situations where bias is a barrier or even the cause of a request. I think that having a look at, and understanding, all the cognitive biases we could all fall prey to would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit.

It’s a great question to ask yourself though; what concept would you add to the list to improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?