Clean Thinking

Questions pointed inward

Asking questions of yourself is the key to learning, but how you ask those questions matters.


Learning can happen in two different ways:

  1. Single loop learning. You identify an error, and you correct it.
  2. Double loop learning. You identify why or how the error occurred, and you correct that instead.

The smartest people in the room often do #1 and rarely do #2. The lack of experience with failure means that these same people don’t have a lot of opportunity to practice #2.

To be clear, double loop learning is an evaluation of the assumptions and wayward thinking that led to errors. It involves a deep look in the mirror.

It involves questioning your thinking, not questioning what happened.


In these introspective situations, it is a very human tendency to focus on and diagnose externalities – everything from “There was nothing else that could be done,” to “So-and-so did or did not do something that made it go wrong.” However, there is no room for externalities in this exercise.

Double loop learning assumes that there is something to be gained and improved by evaluating what was going on in your head.

All of the environmental factors that might have been in play do not matter in this exercise. The only thing that matters is the lens through which you processed that information, how you thought about it or what you made it mean, and what you ultimately did with it.

And then congratulations! On the other side of that exercise is true learning.

Come on! Tell us what you're thinking.