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Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills by Michael Kallet

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24 Triangular Thinking

Estimating the Unknown

Triangulation is a technique land and property surveyors use to measure distances to hard-to-reach objects indirectly. For instance, the Greek philosopher Thales used a form of triangulation to measure the heights of the pyramids. The first step is to measure two angles to some distant object, and then calculate the distance between the two points at which you measured the angles. You then use trigonometry to determine the distance to the faraway object without direct measurement.

Life can often present hard-to-reach solutions, too. Sometimes you're asked to provide an answer that you can't directly measure or obtain—for instance, how long something will take. Because that's a question about the future, you can estimate it—but you cannot give a definitive answer.

Another example is a medical syndrome diagnosis, such as Reye's syndrome, Tourette syndrome (TS), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—all of which end in syndrome. This term is used to describe illnesses with no clear cause—just symptoms. These are sometimes hard to diagnose, because there are often no direct tests to determine whether someone has them.

One method for determining a high-confidence conclusion about what is going on or what to do in these situations is by using something we call triangular thinking. This approach requires that you view or measure the problem from several perspectives. Doing so produces a set of answers that you use to look for commonality or divergence. ...

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