Old-Think vs. New-Think

Reinventing Your Life

(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)

(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my original home town of Rolla, Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek.)

Many years ago, when I was a boy in Missouri, there were a few old men in our community who were highly respected carpenters. With decades of experience, these men were skilled in building things from wood using only a few simple hand tools. Their work practice might be summarized by a common statement of that period, “measure twice, cut once.” That saying means they measured a piece of wood twice before they reached for the saw to take an irreversible action, i.e., cutting the wood. The purpose of the second measurement was to verify the accuracy of the first. If, because of haste or distraction or some error in procedure, their first measurement was wrong, the second time to measure the same length would reveal the problem… before they cut the wood to the wrong size.

Photo by Nattanan Kanchanaprat

The idea behind this statement was, obviously, if you make careful preparations, you will rarely make serious mistakes that must be corrected. I tell my son, age eight, most of the mistakes that he makes in his homework are not because he didn’t know how to do the work. His errors were made because he was trying to get things done too quickly. These were simple mistakes; the reason for his error was he misunderstood the question or miscalculated or didn’t complete the exercise. “Measure twice, cut once,” means that you don’t make easily avoidable mistakes. Consequently, as those old carpenters or young homework-doers learned, you actually get the task done quicker. If you don’t make mistakes, there is no need to take time for going back for corrections. Or, as young Mr. Chester has learned – from hearing it many times – “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. So slower is faster.” 

Usually, that is exactly the case. Those old carpenters back in Missouri knew how to do many things, but they also knew how to avoid most mistakes and, subsequently, having to make time for repeating steps to correct mistakes. This mindset is typical of the agrarian lifestyle with limited or expensive resources. It is suitable for a way of life of moving slowly and cautiously – but perhaps more efficiently because there was less waste. This is an example of Old-Think.

Photo by Free-Photos

There is much to be said for this idea of doing things the old way and avoiding simple mistakes. However, we don’t live in an agrarian culture anymore. We live in a modern digital era where we have technology to bring changes very quickly. A continuous stream of improvements brings significantly greater efficiency and new alternatives. Often these changes challenge our old ways of thinking. 

Let me offer an example: Imagine that you have a medical problem; you must have surgery. Now, you have a choice about who will perform the surgery. Do you want an old doctor with many years of experience? Or should you choose a young doctor just beginning his career? Think of those old carpenters. The standard answer has always been, “For my surgeon, I want the old doctor who has much experience.” 

This is Old-Think in action. This response is what most of us learned. Most people will immediately choose the older doctor; the response is automatic. This attitude is not very different from that agrarian society where changes were slow in coming. Our selection is unconsciously based upon the premise that age and experience bring superior skills and knowledge – like those carpenters. 


Take from Pixabay

Now, some authorities are telling us that choosing the old doctor may not be the best choice. In our modern era, things change very quickly due to advances in technology, research, and the dissemination of new information. Consequently, those authorities tell us the correct answer to that question is you should choose the young doctor. Why? Because the young doctor recently graduated from his medical school with its modern training based upon the latest tools and knowledge. The young doctor has been taught the newest techniques. These were part of his education and practice. On the contrary, the old doctor learned his methods years ago – and perhaps his knowledge is not as current as one would wish. The young doctor with the latest information and practice in the new techniques should be the wiser choice. This is an example of New-Think.

Old-Think or New-Think? Which is superior? The answer, quite obviously, is that each way of thinking – and the accompanying way of living – has its good features and bad features. The smartest way to answer this question is to emphasize the word think rather than old or new. If we will think carefully, take time to explore all possibilities, and consider new ways of doing things, we can find the best solution to almost every situation. Sometimes it will be the old way; sometimes it will be a new way.

Those old carpenters in my hometown were highly respected for their skills and their ability to work efficiently. However, we should always look carefully at the possibilities offered by new ways, then comparing the different alternatives. As Henry Ford, creator of the Ford Motor Company one hundred years ago, would have asked, “Do you want better horses… or do you want something better than horses?” Old-Think or New-Think?  

Shortly before his death, Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer said in an interview that the biggest problem with man is that “he just doesn’t think”. That statement was made many years ago but it is still true today. Thinking is hard work and sometimes uncomfortable; it is much easier to just follow the crowd or be persuaded by a slick advertisement. But, if you want to enjoy the best results from Old-Think or New-Think, thinking is necessary. 

Photo by Foundry




通常情况下,正是如此。密苏里州的那些老木匠知道如何做很多事情,但他们也知道如何避免大多数错误,以及随后,不得不花时间重复步骤来纠正错误。这种心态是典型的资源有限或昂贵的农业生活方式。它适合于一种缓慢而谨慎地前进的生活方式–但也许更有效率,因为浪费较少。这就是 “老思路 “的一个例子。


让我举个例子。想象一下,你有一个医疗问题; 你必须做手术。现在,你可以选择由谁来做手术。你是要一个有多年经验的老医生呢?还是选择一个刚开始工作的年轻医生?想想那些老木匠吧。标准答案一直是:”对于我的外科医生,我想要经验丰富的老医生”。



现在,一些权威人士告诉我们,选择老医生未必是最好的选择。在我们这个现代社会,由于科技的进步、研究的发展和新信息的传播,事物的变化非常快。因此,这些权威人士告诉我们,这个问题的正确答案是你应该选择年轻的医生。为什么要选择年轻医生呢?因为年轻的医生最近从他的医学院毕业,其现代培训的基础上,最新的工具和知识。年轻的医生已经学会了最新的技术。这些都是他教育和实践的一部分。相反,年长的医生多年前就学会了他的方法–也许他的知识并不像人们所希望的那样是最新的。拥有最新信息和新技术实践的年轻医生应该是更明智的选择。这就是 “新思维 “的一个例子。

旧思维还是新思维?孰优孰劣?答案很明显,每一种思维方式–以及与之相伴的生活方式–都有其好的特点和坏的特点。回答这个问题的最聪明的方法是强调 “思考 “这个词,而不是 “旧 “或 “新”。如果我们会仔细思考,花时间探索所有的可能性,并考虑新的做事方式,我们几乎可以找到解决每一种情况的最佳方案。有时这会是老办法,有时会是新办法。

在我的家乡,那些老木匠因其技术和高效的工作能力而备受尊敬。然而,我们总是应该仔细观察新方式所提供的可能性,然后比较不同的选择。正如一百年前福特汽车公司的创建者亨利-福特会问:”你是想要更好的马,还是想要比马更好的东西?” 旧思维还是新思维?

诺贝尔奖获得者阿尔伯特-史怀哲博士在去世前不久接受采访时说,当今人类最大的问题是 “就是不思考”。这句话是很多年前说的,但在今天依然适用。思考是一项艰苦的工作,有时也会让人感到不舒服;如果只是随波逐流,或者被滑稽的广告所说服,那就容易多了。但是,如果你想享受旧思维或新思维的最佳效果,思考是必要的。

3 thoughts on “Old-Think vs. New-Think

  1. Hi Randy, glad to read your new blog. The words impressed me a lot “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. So slower is faster.” Actually, we are all busy in completing work or tasks, and we just pay attention to how many we complete, rather than how well we do it. As the old men said: measure twice, cut once. What we have done in the young age is to get ready and learn, then later we will have much more experience and have better job and future. So just do what we can do and don’t be anxious, keep calm and slow, everything will be fine.
    Hope you well

  2. Old-think and new-think are both ways of thinking. As for my view, there isn’t such a distinctive standard to judge which one is better, it all depends on specific situation, sometimes we need new think to solve a certain problem, for example, online courses help students in remote rural areas receive the equivalent courses as those in cities. But when it comes to ways of wiping out the coronavirus, new think-Western medicine fails. Instead, traditional Chinese medicine, which can be regarded as using traditional and old thinks to treat the disease makes a difference.
    Thinking is actually the most important part in our life. We need to keep reflecting on our ways of thinking to get bigger improvements.

  3. Well, as for the choice that masses of people resort to the old doctors and don’t choose the young ones when given an operation, I think there is a prejudice. That means people stick the tag on the two sorts of doctors. They just think simply that the young aren’t experienced enough to perform such a vital thing. Apparently, there’s a prejudice. They only see things in a single respect. But to my way of thinking, not all the young doctors aren’t experienced. What’s more, It is an intelligence time, the young doctors are well prepared for their career with the help of advanced technology. And the young doctors and the old doctors have their own advantages and disadvantages. And the key is to adapt to the present age better.

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