Established, since 1997, leading UK based training provider.

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.

Blogs by Email

Do you want to receive an email whenever we post a new blog? The blogs contain article 5-10 minutes long - ideal for reading during your coffee break!

Your Comments

Further Reading in Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • Tips on How to be Innovative
    Your business needs to adapt and grow in today’s ever-changing economic climate. Being innovative is not just about inventing, it also means adapting your current business model and making changes to your working practices.
    Read Article >
  • How to Solve a Problem
    When you have a problem, your task is to sit down and try to figure out the major causes of the problem and interrupt them.
    Read Article >
  • How to use feedback
    How to use feedback Feedback: If you want to make better progress, then measure the feedback. What is feedback? Feedback is information. Feedback is information that describes the difference between: What is happening; and What you want to happen If you want to make better progress, then measure the feedback. If...
    Read Article >
  • The Law of Diminishing Returns
    More is not necessarily better. There is a point which is optimum. After this point comes diminishing returns, where additional amounts of time, money and effort are ineffective and may even be dangerous.
    Read Article >
  • The Single Most Important Thing
    Be the best by learning how to pick out the single most important thing, in any situation or conversation.
    Read Article >