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Black and White Thinking

Black and White Thinking

Black and White Thinking.

Black and white thinking is a thought-error, which falsely creates a binary choice in situations that are not binary.

For example: You are asked to decide between:

  • Black or white.
  • A or B.
  • With us or against us.
  • Right or wrong.
  • Truth or lie.
  • Innocent or guilty

Black and white thinking is an error because it is an oversimplification.

This type of thinking can be dangerous because, most real-life situations are very complex; they contain many elements. You need to carefully consider many options before you can arrive at a correct decision. The "black and white thinking tool" is often too blunt for that job.

Using "black and white thinking" is like a brain surgeon trying to perform a delicate surgery using a hammer. It never works out well.

Black and white thinking is attractive because it is similar to another concept that is absolutely essential to clear thinking and correct decision making. That concept is called The Law of Identity.

The Law of Identity states that facts are facts, or (A is A).

It is important to understand the difference between:

  • black and white thinking, which is wrong, and
  • the law of identity, which is right.

"Law of Identity" thinking restates the above list of binary choices to read as follows:

  • "A or B" becomes, A or NON-A?
  • Right or wrong, becomes, right or NOT right?
  • North or south, becomes north or NOT north?
  • Guilty or innocent becomes, guilty or NOT guilty.

The Law of Identity looks superficially similar to black and white thinking, but it is important that you spot the difference:

  • "You must either be facing NORTH or you are not facing north". Is a correct statement.
  • "You must be facing NORTH or facing south". Is not a correct statement - black and white thinking.

You need to check whether the situation you are examining is one where there are multiple possible options and by reducing them to only two, would be an oversimplification.

If you apply a "binary choice" in situations that are NOT binary, then you fall foul of the error of oversimplification (black and white thinking).

Recognise that there are many situations that ARE binary choices.

For example: Launching a rocket is a binary decision. You cannot half-launch a Saturn V space rocket. You either launch it, 100% or not at all.

Equally, you cannot be half pregnant.

These are binary options, because you;

  • Are pregnant or not,
  • Have launched the Saturn V or not.
  • Have passed the exam or not.
  • Said it or not.
  • Did it or not.

Summary

Black and white thinking falsely creates a binary choice, in situations that are not binary.

  • Don't use black and white thinking.
  • Do use "law of identity" thinking, (A = A).

Why? Because, facts are facts.

About the Author: Chris Farmer

Chris

Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • The Single Most Important Thing
    Be the best by learning how to pick out the single most important thing, in any situation or conversation.
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  • The Law of Diminishing Returns
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  • Key Steps to Better Decisions
    Better decisions shape our lives, impacting careers, relationships, and happiness. Here are key principles to guide decision-making and steer towards success.
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  • Black and White Thinking
    Right or wrong? Real life problems are often too complex to apply black and white thinking to. Instead, try using another concept, the Law of Identity, on which to base your analysis and decision making.
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  • Unlocking the Power of First Principles
    When supporting our opinions, we often turn to facts or fundamental principles. However, one of these approaches emerges as significantly more impactful. We explore why this is important.
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