It is common for us to fall into the pitfall of “binary thinking”.
A man could be an accomplished student, acing through different subjects, and become skilled at his craft, yet be labeled stupid because of simple mistakes in an area he has no proficiency in.
A political agenda designed to fulfill the need of the society turned down because it symbolizes the embodiment of an ideology the country is opposed to, despite all of its benefits to the larger society.
A man could be labeled a “low-quality standards”, “idiot” or “incompetent” because he failed to excel at certain proficiency demanded by the society while excelling in other areas people often overlook from.
This is so confusing! Why should we label things based on two random categorizations with ill-defined, sometimes vaguely agreed-upon standards?
Well, maybe it’s time to stop thinking in binary and adopt a spectral mental model.
Binary Thinking, an Obsolete Approach
Binary thinking is the way we categorize things based on two different options. It could only either be A or B.
A person could either be smart or stupid, successful or failing, wise or foolish, virtuous or evil. This could apply to events, objects, ideas, or anything that could be classified.
This dichotomy can help a lot, especially by simplifying thoughts and creating certainty.
“Satan is evil while god is virtuous, so follow god and he will bring prosperity to your life.”
“These tools are of low-quality, don’t use them!”
“You‘re too stupid for this position, please apply for another.”
It helps us with making a selection. Having way too many variables may hamper our decision-making process, slowing it down to the point that it becomes cumbersome.
However, we often use this discrete, binary classification in the wrong way, often causing a set of unnecessary problems that we could avoid by using a full-spectrum one.
Bring the American election year as the perfect example of this dichotomy. The country is suddenly divided into only two options: either you’re a leftist, socialist and commie bastards, or that you’re a racist, supremacist right-winger who opposed liberty and kill justice.
Anything from the left and the right are always brandished as the extreme of either political spectrum. For example, universal healthcare is communism while stringent border control is fascist. No in-between despite the fact that Scandinavian countries and most Western European countries can have universal healthcare under a socio-capitalism model, and that many countries can have strict border control without having to be a “fascist bastion”.
The key problem with binary thinking is that it doesn’t let you make compromises. A thing could only fall in a dichotomy. Therefore, a policy can only seem to be either left or right, a person could only be either bad or good or smart or stupid, or that an action could only provide an absolute positive outcome or a negative outcome.
This may seem logical, but as Bob Johanson, an Institute of the Future fellow, quoted, the future may instead turn into the favor of the “full-spectral thinkers”.
The future will be a global scramble that will be very difficult to categorize. You will need a full-spectrum mindset to have any hint of what is going on. The scramble will be fraught with toxic misinformation (not necessarily intentional), disinformation (intentional), and distrust. In this future, it will be very dangerous to fit new threats or new opportunities into old categories of thought. Fortunately, new spectrums of thought will become possible in new ways over the next decade. Full-spectrum thinking will be required in order to thrive.
The modern world offers a supremely-complex set of events, thinking, and actions all interconnected between each other, creating a complex web of events that is analogous to that of the web woven by intoxicated-spider. The modern world could never accommodate a simple, two-category classification.
Just take the example of American politics. Universal healthcare isn’t always a communistic ideal just because it distributes wealth in the form of healthcare across the population. It merely an attempt to create a fair welfare state whereby the government takes responsibility for the wellbeing of the people to maintain the economy, a crucial element of capitalism as espoused by renowned sociologist T.H. Marshall.
The binary thinking is also invalid across multiple conditions in life. A person can ace a subject while being bad at another. This does not necessarily put the person at the stupid or smart dichotomy, but merely that the individual’s intelligence varies across multiple subjects.
A Switch Towards Full-Spectrum Thinking
Full-spectrum thinking will be the antithesis of binary thinking.
Instead of putting the world into a dichotomy, full-spectrum thinkers see the in-betweens.
“You’re not bad or good, you can be good in one subject while being bad at another.”
“I am not interested with either leftist or right-wing agendas, I only vote for whoever could advance the country better.”
“The individual’s failure in his job doesn’t mean that he is stupid, he’s just not well-suited for this position.”
A full-spectrum thinker considers the options not present in the dichotomous brain of a binary thinker. This could either be both of the dichotomous options, in-between, other, or neither.
A full-spectrum thinker thinks in a complete manner. They consider other factors that might contribute to the options, looking at factors that might influence the subject, and think more critically about the available options that their thought offers.
As a result, full-spectrum thinkers can think outside the box of common people, provide a fair solution where binary thinking will lead to sacrifice, and end up relaying the best results.
The pitfall of full-binary thinking lays in its complexity. Whereas binary thinking is optimized for its efficiency, full-spectrum thinking requires careful thinking of available options, circumstances and context, as well as formulating a solution that doesn’t adhere to a simple dichotomy but reflects the reality.
As a result, when binary thinkers think an individual might be stupid, a full-spectrum thinker can see the learning process that brings the individual closer to being smart and their proficiency in other subjects not being assessed by the binary thinker.
And the full-spectrum thinker may be able to see the positives in the negativities a binary-thinker can only see!
Putting Full-Spectrum Thinking to Use
The full-spectrum way of thinking is definitely a more complete method of thinking, yet it has its own weakness, belie upon the complexity of thinking it requires.
On the other hand, a binary thinking process is its efficiency, due to the limited options it offers. This becomes the major reason many resorts to this simple, yet ineffective method.
The best way is to properly use each of the thinking modes for the best use.
Binary modes are known for its efficiency, hence, a quick decision needed to be taken from available options may best utilize binary thinking mode. Furthermore, a quick decision-making process to analyze a solution to less-important routines such as deciding upon sports to do during the weekend may best use this thinking method.
However, thinking about the complex world, identifying a proper political candidate, assessing someone’s credibility is definitely the task for full-spectrum thinking. Mainly because of the multitude of variables that may influence the qualification of the individuals, objects or ideas, and the importance of making a properly-quantified decision.
Indeed, full-spectrum thinking may best be used to analyze the world we live in right now, due to its complexity and the unlimited options it gives. Anyhow, we don’t want to live in a world limited to a mere two options.