Since these steps have to be met to start an action, it is important to know what motivates us to go through each step. [...] the perceived importance of the need will lead to the desire and decision to take action. [...] concentrating on the benefits of meeting the need, rather than on the difficulty of achieving it, would be an incentive to drive us into taking action.
inform July 2010, Vol. 21 (7) 431 Award Address Thought processes leading to discovery Ammanuel Mehreteab The following article is based on the address given by Ammanuel Mehreteab, the 2010 Samuel Rosen Memorial Award winner. His address was given at the 101st AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo, held in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, May 16–19. As the 2010 recipient of the Samuel Rosen Memo- rial Award, I was asked to present at the luncheon of the Surfactants & Detergents Division of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. I was faced with the challenge of choosing a subject that would be relevant to my audience, yet not too scientific. The 2010 Samuel Rosen Memorial Award winner Ammanuel Meh- I decided to discuss the topic of “thought pro- reteab, pictured here third from left. Also pictured are, from left, pre- cesses” and how they lead to discoveries that vious Rosen Award winners Paul Berger, Lee Matheson, and Upali Weerasooriya. may be of interest. I asked myself several questions: What does the mind go through when solving a problem? Is there a structured way of think- achieving it, would be an incentive to drive us into taking action. ing about problem solving? Can we identify and verbalize this struc- However, does taking action and working hard guarantee success? ture so that it can be shared? Can creativity be learned? Or does the approach and method of taking action make a differ- All of us have had creative moments. If we can retrace our steps ence? The thought processes undertaken during problem solving and identify what the effective thought processes are, we can then and the design and performance of experiments are the crucial final transfer them from a subconscious level to a more conscious activity steps leading to creativity and innovation. that can be repeated and may also be transferred to others. I decided to retrace my own steps and reflect on my experience and experi- APPROACh TO PROBlEM SOlVINg—MAkINg ments when developing soluble cationic-anionic surfactants in order FUll USE OF “INTERNAl lIBRARY” to try to articulate my thought processes along the way. The more I I have found it helpful to first identify the problems to meet a need: reflected on how I did things, the more I discovered, on a conscious Break complex problems into more manageable pieces; and then for- level, how I thought and learned about some of my thought pro- mulate each problem into basic questions whose answers help solve cesses. Although verbalizing these thought processes seems to be a the problem. The basic questions are How and the five Ws, that is, challenge, I would like to share some of these thoughts. Chances are Who, What, When, Where, and Why. The intention is that answering that similar thought processes are common to many of us. the questions will help solve the problems, and solving the problems will help meet the need. Answering the basic questions then gives PRECONDITIONS FOR TAkINg ACTION guidance toward meeting the needs when working backward. But Three major preconditions or steps must be met before starting the where do we find answers to the basic questions? rigorous thought process that leads to creativity or innovation. These The normal practice is to look into the readily accessible inter- preconditions include (i) a need to be met or a challenge to over- nal and external sources—that is, our own expertise, available lit- come, (ii) a desire to take action, and (iii) a decision to take action. erature, and other experts—to see if similar questions have already Since these steps have to be met to start an action, it is important to been answered. However, when the solution is not available because know what motivates us to go through each step. As in the proverb nobody else has addressed it before, we tend to give up. This is “Necessity is the mother of invention,” need is the integral start- unfortunate because we are failing to fully use our “internal library” ing point. And the perceived importance of the need will lead to (IL), which consists of all our a
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