Thought processes leading to discovery by ProQuest


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.

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									                      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
        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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