“Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes” Will Sharpen Your Intellect

Whether you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan from the original books and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or perhaps from one of the many adaptations for the screen (both big and small), you’ve likely always been impressed by the detective’s mental acuity and uncanny abilities of observation. Holmes solves crimes other detectives give up on and points out faulty leaps in logic all around him.

Holmes’s mind may seem like nothing more than a fictional creation of an intellect mere mortals like us could never touch. But in psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova’s engaging Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes she argues persuasively that that’s not the case at all. With the right focus, motivation, and lots of practice, any of us can improve our thinking and reasoning to at least approach something a little more Holmes-like and a little less like Dr. Watson. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.


Konnikova begins by describing what Holmes calls the “brain attic,” where we store memories and information in order to retrieve them later when we need them. A messy attic seems the perfect metaphor for a messy mind, one cluttered with useless junk and so disorganized that you can’t find what you need when you need it. For Holmes, letting your “brain attic” end up in disrepair like this sets you up to be a lazy, unimaginative thinker, taking short-cuts where he’d see the long way round to the proper solution. You need to clear things out in order to allow room for insight and inspiration to flourish.

How to start this process, then? It comes down, initially, to making sure you’re noticing the right things, and giving your attention fully to the questions you’re trying to answer or decisions you’re trying to make. You also have to learn to recognize your own mental biases and the many ways these can affect our judgment.

Everyone’s brains use frameworks to filter information — it’s a necessity. Otherwise, we’d be constantly overwhelmed by the amount of information around us. However, not acknowledging this reality and, even worse, never second-guessing why you ended up thinking a certain way about a situation can lead to all sorts of mental mistakes. Holmes himself would make these same mistakes, had he not trained his brain to be attentive and questioning.

Above all, you have to be motivated to change your default mental state of habit and inattention into one of mindfulness. Just reading this book alone can’t get you there, but it’s a start if you’re up for it.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/04/book-biz-sherlock-holmes-is-a-worthy-mental-model/)

Be the tree. 

“Be patient, do nothing, cease striving. We find this advice disheartening and therefore unfeasible because we forget it is our own inflexible activity that is structuring the reality. We think that if we do not hustle, nothing will happen and we will pine away. But the reality is probably in motion and after a while we might take part in that motion. But one can’t know.” — Paul Goodman

A Book About Obsession, “The Orchid Thief” Creates It

(Looking for a captivating beach or poolside read this summer? Try this one!)

Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief is, quite simply, a wonder. You’ll find yourself fascinated (perhaps unexpectedly) by all the twists and turns and divergent paths Orlean takes you on. Inspired by a small newspaper article she read about the arrest of four men (three Seminoles, one white) for the theft of rare orchids from a protected Florida swamp, in Orlean’s capable hands, this story becomes so much more than that.


As a work of nonfiction, everything she writes here is necessarily true, of course. But she somehow manages to tap into a seemingly unending well of larger-than-life real people and colorful stories. Even she herself suggests she couldn’t create fictional characters as interesting and complex as these. You might never look at an orchid, or Florida for that matter, the same way again.

From the history of Florida’s many outrageous land-grabbing real estate schemes to an in-depth look at the orchid’s evolutionary adaptations (which captured the mind of no less than Charles Darwin himself) to an exploration of how orchids became coveted assets in Victorian England, this book brings history and botany to life. Orlean bounces from topic to topic, making me want to know more about things I frankly never knew I was interested in.

And I can’t overlook John Laroche, the white man who was arrested and charged with the Native Americans for stealing orchids. His story, and perhaps even more importantly, Orlean’s reactions to and feelings about him, ties it all together. We are constantly brought back to Laroche, and his search for the elusive ghost orchid, as a sort of lodestone throughout the entire book.

We also meet many other orchid growers and collectors in south Florida. These are people so passionate about these temperamental flowers that Orlean actively avoids owning orchids herself. She gives away every orchid given to her. She only wants to write about their passion, not share it.

Writer Charlie Kaufman adapted The Orchid Thief for a movie, sort of. Called Adaptation and starring Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, it’s about, well, Charlie Kaufman struggling to turn the book into a movie. I’ve seen it a few times and already liked it for its self-referential funny weirdness, but now having read this book, I have a whole new appreciation for it.

Regardless if you’ve seen Adaptation or not, The Orchid Thief is a book that just about anyone would enjoy. Orlean’s writing is so beautiful and full of life, and she’s as much a part of the story as the other characters.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/05/book-biz-this-story-of-orchids-and-florida-captivates/)