Holistic Thinking

I’ve been reading Erin Meyer’s Culture Map. And I even did her survey on her website that would cost you a bit to get some results. Anyways, I realised as a Singaporean that my results lacked 1 dimension, and it was on the persuading scale. It was only when I had results not benchmarked to my country’s norm that I realised there was a dimension missing!

Only then I realised from her book that she claims the East Asians tend towards a ‘holistic thinking approach’ where they focus on inter-connectedness and inter-dependencies. I found this pretty interesting being a Singaporean and essentially East Asian descent. I’m not exactly sure how this drags us out of that Persuading spectrum of ‘principles-first’ vs ‘applications-first’ because I do find myself on the scale as well and I’m inclined towards ‘principles-first’. I attribute it to my western upbringing but I also think that holistic thinking is more compatible with the ‘principles-first’ approach to reasoning.

East Asians are also logical; even if they might not have a standard structure of approach. The holistic thinking perhaps just cause us to reach out farther to consider more marginal connections to the core topic. This could mean that in using the ‘principles-first’ approach, holistic thinkers are drawing from even broader principles that may at first sight, have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

For example, I was recently having a conversation with a renowned East Asian expert in the bioenergy field and in talking about the advantages of biofuels over e-fuels, he started by considering the efficiency of electrolysing water, and then the fact that most locations rich in wind or solar power tend to be scarce in water supply, and eventually the land required to support the power generation that is required to produce just a small amount of renewable e-fuel. Then he went on to talk about growing crops on some of these land, how they might help the habitat, the robustness of particular crops. Finally, that the crop residues can be processed to produce biofuels; allowing the land to be used for multiple purpose of food and energy – especially if the right kind of crops are grown to ensure more cycles of harvest.

The point about biofuels being superior to e-fuels was made somewhat indirectly and through a detailed explanation about something way beyond the issue of energy – it was about resource-intensity in terms of land-use and perhaps water. So he was drawing from a principle about resource intensity to produce the required fuel essentially though the manner he had approached it starts with considering linkages between the subject and other concepts.

For me, I am relatively comfortable with that sort of conversations and being patient for the point to be made; and even if the point is not really made clearly, I often give benefit of doubt and draw the connections by myself. Perhaps being East Asian in heritage, I rarely have an issue drawing the actual connections that the speakers are getting at. Indeed, perhaps persuading an East Asian will require more appreciation of the importance of connections and inter-dependencies or relationship than a linear approach to logic.