Making Up Your Own Mind —Book Review

Thinking Effectively Through Creative Puzzle-Solving

Making Up Your Own Mind book cover

Making Up Your Own Mind Review

Making Up Your Own Mind : Edward Burger, president of Southwestern University, developed a 100-page course that aims to slow down your thinking and help you think through ideas.

He lays out 25 challenging puzzles and guides you through solving them without revealing the answers which can be either challenging or vexing. But he will inspire you to get up, walk around, ponder and puzzle.


Making Up Your Own Mind Pin

  • Don’t be distracted from the true purpose of formal education.
  • The useful lifespan of skills decreases constantly.
  • Continually strive to develop your ability to think effectively.
  • Practice the “five elements of effective thinking”.
  • First, aim to “understand deeply.” Admitting that you don’t understand things puts you in a mindset to learn.
  • Second, “fail effectively.” Try things and falter, but learn a little each time you don’t succeed.
  • Third, “create questions.” Think slowly through each of the many specifics that present you with an issue or challenge.
  • Fourth, “go with the flow of ideas.” Connect your thinking by connecting it with other disciplines, ideas and subjects.
  • Fifth, “be open to change.” Keep an open mind; be willing to see things differently.
  • Take charge of your learning.
  • Slow down, unplug your devices and ease your daily flurry of brain activity.
  • Think, reflect, connect and let your mind renew and recharge.

Making Up Your Own Mind Summary

Intentional Learning

Effective learning” requires the experience of doing, practising, making mistakes and thinking through ideas. This leads to you generating your own thoughts and “making up your own mind.”

Learning shouldn’t be a race toward earning a credential, certificate or degree and turning that credential into a job.

Regard learning instead as a journey of self-discovery.

“Effective thinking includes the objective analysis that is typically associated with critical thinking but also includes broader modes of creativity, originality, engagement and empathy.”

Approach learning as an interconnected, multidisciplinary exploration of what interests you. Don’t merely learn a subject. Learn past it and beyond it into other subjects as you connect it to a greater understanding and reinforcement of learning.

This brings the thrill of illumination and the profound enjoyment of gaining knowledge. Adopt what the ancient Greeks referred to as a paideia approach to learning, as used at Southwestern University: seek “intentional connections” between the things you learn in each discipline or subject area.

“The ultimate goal is not to solve the riddle at hand, but rather to apply multiple practices of effective thinking to see that puzzle in as many different ways as possible even after a solution is discovered.”


Add the Dots ― make the connection

We’ll face many puzzles in our life. Whether we cast them as problems or opportunities, they require thought to resolve. The more divergent our thinking, the better.

We can and should practice working through problems. Don’t focus only on solving them and moving on but think about the many ways we can approach each challenge and consider it differently.

I believe problem-solving, with the right mindset, should be FUN.

Effective Thinking and Critical Thinking

Effective thinking differs from critical thinking. In order to think effectively, it would require combining analysis with our emotions and our creativity. 


Hence, we need to apply the “five elements of effective thinking”:

1.  Understand deeply

You never simply understand a thing or don’t understand it. The understanding exists on a continuum; you always possess a degree of understanding. You can always learn more to understand better. You’ll always able to add the dots.

This mindset helps when we don’t understand most of a complicated issue. It opens our mind and gives us confidence that we can improve our understanding.

Reduce the problem down to what we do grasp.

Gradually build from there to understand a little more of the issue at a time.

Look for underlying patterns that might help explain the whole thing.

Use a variety of adjectives to describe the issue, problem or opportunity in as many ways as we can. 

Then, think deeply about each of your descriptors.


2. Fail effectively

Fear of failure is a huge problem. It can be paralyzing. Here how we can fail effectively.

First, zero in on discrete aspects of the issue or puzzle. Try possible solutions even knowing we’ll likely to fail. Learn from each failure so that we can increase our understanding.

Every failure will reveal something that advances our thinking. Cycle through our failures quickly. Don’t procrastinate. Analyse and have at it again by examining and learn from each failure. By accepting the probability of failure, you enable yourself to see the puzzle differently each time.


3. Create questions

Think about questions; ask “what if…?” 

Even if you don’t ask all your questions, framing and formulating them helps you consider alternatives. Asking questions ensures that you address the right issues and see the “big picture.

Play devil’s advocate, too, by taking an opposite position on the issues or puzzles as you think through them.

4. Go with the flow of ideas

Follow through on your new thoughts and ideas, and connect them with your previous thinking. Consider what flows from your ideas by asking “what comes next?” 

Explore every idea through to the end, and consider multiple perspectives. Follow your doubts; don’t ignore them. Stay open-minded to alternatives.


5. Be open to change

All people are “truly capable of change.

Part of learning involves understanding that changing turns you into a “better version” of yourself. 

Change incrementally but constantly. 

Making Up Your Own Mind The Puzzles

Consider each of the following puzzles, for example. Think them through methodically from as many angles as possible using each of the five thinking processes. Take your time before reading onward after the puzzles to the suggested approaches and hints provided below them.

“Commit to being open to new templates of thinking and modes of analysis.”

Turn off your devices. Find a quiet place. Prepare yourself by remembering to take your time. Resist the seemingly easy answers so you can think through each puzzle even if you’ve seen it before and know the solution. Solving the puzzles almost doesn’t matter.

Your thinking process matters much more.


1. Who’s who

Two college students, a math major and a philosophy major, are having a conversation.

The one with black hair introduces himself as a math major.

The one with red hair introduces herself as an philosophy major. 

“At least one of these students is lying.” 

What colour hair does the one claiming to be a math major have? 

2. Three switches, two rooms and one bulb

You enter a room with three light switches, all in the off position. One of the switches controls a lamp in a room you can’t see down a twisted hallway. 

How many trips must you make down the hall and back to know which switch controls the lamp?

Determine the fewest trips possible.


3. Five elements, but only four hats

Four students line up in a row.  

An opaque, nonreflective screen separates students A and B, who face it on opposite sides.

Student A wears a black hat. Student B wears a gold hat.

Student C, wearing a black hat, stands behind student B.

Student D, wearing a gold hat, stands behind student C.

The students know that each one of them is wearing a hat that’s either black or gold.

They don’t know the colour of their own hats. Students A and B, facing the screen, also don’t know the colour of anyone else’s hat.

Student C, standing behind B, knows B’s hat colour.

Student D, behind B and C, knows both of their hat colours. The students can’t speak or touch. They will win $100 each if one correctly states the colour of his or her own hat within 10 minutes.

After a minute, one student knows for sure the colour of his or her hat and shouts it out.

Which student speaks up, and what colour hat is the student wearing?


4. Puzzling” politicians

One hundred politicians are in a meeting. You know that at least one is honest and that within any given pair, at least one is crooked. How many politicians are crooked?

5. Penny for your thoughts

Some pennies sit on a table.

Blindfolded, you count them.

A researcher tells you how many lie heads up; otherwise, you have no way of knowing. You can move the pennies around and turn them over. The researcher asks you to divide them into two groups, each with an equal number heads-up.

Can you do it? If so, how?

6. A cross farmer needs to cross a river

Farmer Francis stands on the bank of a river with a rabbit, a fox and a bunch of carrots. He must get them all across, but his raft is only big enough for himself and one passenger or item. 

If he leaves the fox and the rabbit together, the fox will kill the rabbit.

If he leaves the rabbit with the carrots, the rabbit will eat them.

The fox and the rabbit won’t run away if Francis leaves them alone together. 

How can Francis get himself, the fox, the rabbit and the carrots across safely?


7. The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO

You love your job, but you have a terrible boss. The boss decides to downsize. He brings everyone to a meeting.

He says that the next morning, you and your teammates will line up one behind the other. He will place either a red or a green hat on each of your heads. You will only see the colour of the hat on the heads of the people in front of you – not on your own head nor on the people behind you. You will be given a buzzer with a red button and a green button.

The boss will ask the last person in line with the colour of his or her hat. That person will use his or her buzzer to say whether it’s red or green. After pressing the button, a loudspeaker will state “red” or “green” according to the button the employee pushed. The boss will immediately and loudly fire you if you’re wrong, but he’ll send you back to work if you’re right. 

He will move on to the next employee in line and ask the same question. You can’t speak during the process or share information other than pressing the buttons. That evening, you and your teammates get together to discuss a strategy that will result in the fewest firings the next morning. 

What is it?


Making Up Your Own Mind Suggested Approaches & Solutions

Don’t compartmentalize your thinking by moving from discrete topic to discrete topic. Think through each topic, borrow ideas from one discipline to gain insight, connections and even epiphanies. A vivid perspective on each puzzle lies within each of the descriptions above. It’s there if you think patiently and effectively. 

Try these tactics:

1. Who’s who 

Examine each word carefully, even when they seem unimportant. Think through each option. What does it mean that “at least one of these students is lying?” Go through the five effective thinking mind-sets. The puzzle says, “one [is] a math major; the other, a philosophy major.” These facts, plus the fact that one lies, means neither tells the truth.

2. Three switches, two rooms and one bulb

Start by throwing ideas out – any idea, no matter how absurd. Could you solve this puzzle blindfolded? Think about that to consider alternatives to discerning whether a lamp turns on. Slow down. What else can a light bulb do besides produce light?

3. Five elements, but only four hats

Put yourself in the position of each student, one by one. Try to see what they see and tap into what they think. What information does each student have? What information will each gain during the challenge? Consider that A and B don’t see any hats, so they start with no information. C knows that B wears a gold hat, but the solution lies in C taking the perspective of D. C knows D can see the colour of her hat and of B’s and C’s hats. By thinking the thoughts of D as the game begins, C can determine with certainty the colour of C’s own hat. C thinks about what D would say or not say depending on what D sees. If D stays silent for a whole minute, C has her answer and speaks up.


4. Puzzling politicians

You have four certainties. Think through each to gain a more complete picture. For the statements to hold, at least one politician is honest. But in any given pair, at least one is crooked. Consider that the honest politician can pair with any of the others. 

5. Penny for your thoughts

Consider a smaller number of pennies being on the table.

What if you had only two or three? 

Try to find a rule that works no matter the number of pennies. 

6. A cross farmer needs to cross a river

Think counterintuitively. Don’t consider only the order of the things that Francis will take across the river. Think about the opposite journey. He can bring an animal or item that he took one way back again the other way. Neither the fox nor the rabbit nor the carrots have to travel in only one direction.

7. The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO

Consider the information you have now and will gain as the process begins. You will know the colour of the hat on everyone in line in front of you. As the CEO announces whether a person has been fired, you learn the colour of the hats behind you, one by one. By your turn, you will know the colour of every hat behind you and every hat in front of you, but you won’t know the colour of your own. Think about what data you may be able to share with your teammates in front of you, knowing the information you have at the precise time the boss asks you to choose. It helps to think small at first. 

For example, what if you only had a few other teammates with you in line? Put yourself in the shoes of the person in the very back. Think about what he or she sees and how many ways you can describe it. Make a list of those things, and think about what the person in the back can convey with such limited communications options.


Effective Thinking

Slow down to think deeply, to think through challenges, to seek many perspectives, and to resist jumping to a quick or obvious solution. Learning to do this takes patience and practice. The payoff in developing this level of mindfulness extends to your personal relationships outside work. Turn off your devices, and turn off your busy mind. Give your brain what it needs to regenerate, to make new connections and to see things differently. To learn effectively, you have to take action and responsibility for your own learning. Look for challenges, think through them, and talk to people about their challenges and how they addressed them. Ask a lot of questions. Practice all these elements to become an even better version of you.

Another wonderful read on thinking skill would be Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

“The mind needs an opportunity to settle and recharge in order to operate as effectively, wisely, creatively and joyfully as possible.”

Read Making Up Your Own Mind : Thinking Effectively through Creative Puzzle-Solving


Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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