Sherlock Holmes’ thinking secrets can turn you into a first rate investigator,
researcher, problem-solver and slice-n-dice, no-nonsense, brain-flexing mystery buster!
Do you feel like a dick in private? Are your ideas and thinking skills
underdeveloped? Well, you don’t have to feel like that - instead learn the secrets of the world’s most famous
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Sherlock Holmes can turn you into a dynamic detective able to solve any
mystery and discover the answer to any problem.
For over a hundred years, the Sherlock Holmes detective stories have
entertained us, from the original penny comic stories, to the books and films that followed.
Loads of actors have had a bash at playing the aquiline, pipe-smoking
detective. Personally, I think Basil Rathbone hit it right on the nail. In the mixture of all these performances,
an archetypal image of the genius investigator from 211B Baker Street is lodged in each of our brains.
So let’s draw on that. And build in ourselves a little of the astuteness, keen
observation, and austere powers of reasoning that typify Sherlock Holmes.
"...go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone."
Throughout the many Sherlock Holmes stories, there are 4 main steps followed
for solving mysteries.
1. Observation - soaking up the facts
Whenever you are faced with any new situation or problem, you must
first observe it. Observation requires detachment. Think of one of those beautiful, intense, icy glares from
Sherlock Holmes as he pans a room taking in every detail. If you are emotionally involved your observation
will be colored by your emotion.
You must become as detached as possible. Just allow what is there to
present itself to you. Open up your senses. Really listen, let the sounds impact upon you. Notice the smells.
And look with the eyes of a hawk. Sharp. Precise. Missing nothing. Be alert to every movement, every clue,
anything that is out of the ordinary.
If you are emotionally reacting to a problem, you have already prejudged the
problem. You have narrowed your mind by defining the problem as “bad”. When you first start out, you must be more
Taoist. You know nothing at this point. You do not know whether the problem is good or bad. For every problem
carries the seed of a greater opportunity or benefit. Simply observe…
Sherlock Holmes stressed not pre-judging a situation before the facts have been
observed and gathered.
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has
data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
Whilst we strive to be as objective as possible, the way a thing appears is
always affected by the position from which we view it. To alleviate this flaw, we must try and observe situations
and problems from as many different angles as possible.
True observation can only occur through a certain amount of self-annihilation!
In other words, “you” have to shut up! You need to get yourself completely out of the way so that you can perceive
clearly. As Krishnamurti said: “Learning is the very essence of humility.”
So get quiet. Get still. Look and see what is there.
Then move. Take up another position. Look again. Repeat ad nauseum!
Remember - when you’ve looked it in the face, look it up the ass!
So you’ve looked, you’ve listened, you’ve touched, tasted and smelled -
you’ve gone in with your senses wide open and your mind quiet and alert. You’ve moved around both physically and
mentally, taking up different positions, perceiving your situation or problem from different angles.
In looking, you are learning. When you see with fresh eyes, unclouded by what
you think you know, your powers of observation become like that of a wild animal. You are far more alert. Your
vision is sharper. There is no interference. The “walk-around” trance of listening to the incessant prattle of your
mind is at once burst like a bubble. Suddenly, you find yourself pushed up and out into reality, right there in the
living NOW, experiencing, and alive to all that is going on.
"Holmes, you see everything."
"I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see."
--The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
This is a profoundly brain enriching state to be in. In the state of silence
and perceiving, you will be filled with what has been described as the “otherness”. It’s like a mystical wind of
pure powerful intelligence. When you shut up, something bigger and better can be there instead. Try it!
Suck up facts like a magnet pulls in iron filings
As you observe, you gather the facts. You are looking to see the components of
the situation or problem. You soak up everything. You use the 6 honest serving men: what and why and when and how
and where and who to glean every bit of information. You ask those questions of everything and everybody. You ask
those questions with your senses: searching, seeking, questioning. You become totally receptive to the
A Study In Scarlet Cheeks… Deductive Reasoning, Dr Watson
Taking a well-earned break from the detective business, Sherlock Holmes and Watson
were on a camping/hiking trip. They had gone to bed and were lying there looking up at the sky.
Holmes said, "Watson, look up. What do you see?"
"Well, I see thousands of stars."
"And what does that mean to you?"
"Well, I suppose it means that of all the planets and suns and moons in the
universe, that we are truly the one most blessed with the reason to deduce theorems to make our way
in this world of criminal enterprises and blind greed. It means that we are truly small in the eyes
of God but struggle each day to be worthy of the senses and spirit we have been blessed with. And,
I suppose, at the very least, in the meteorological sense, it means that it is most likely that we
will have another nice day tomorrow. What does it mean to you, Holmes?"
"To me, it means someone has stolen our tent."
2. Analysis - sorting through the jigsaw pieces
Think of a jigsaw puzzle. When you have all the pieces, and they are all the
right way up, you can then start to analyse where they go and how they fit together. The more pieces you have the
easier it will be to infer what the big picture will be. So the more angles you have observed a problem from, and
the more facts you have gathered about it, the more likely you are to be able to see the final solution.
With the jigsaw, you might look for the pieces with straight edges, to get you
started. You are looking for patterns that you can build on (in this case straight lines). Are there patterns in
the problem that enable you to see its cause?
You take the pieces of the jigsaw, the facts, and you begin to think about how
they fit together, how they relate to one another, how one links to the other and what affect that has on the
“Each fact is suggestive in itself. Together they have a cumulative force.”
~The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
Perhaps you run a ladies department store and through market research you learn
that women who visited your store have a poor impression of the store. You can’t understand it, as you are pleased
with customer service. So seeking to improve your store’s image profile and build business, you observe everything
and everyone in your store. You gather all the facts. Then you analyse it.
You realise that beggars and hawkers are targeting people outside the store.
What’s more, the street at the side of your building is strewn with rubbish. Tony the doorman, who you always
thought was polite, turns out to be Mr Sleaze and regularly hits on or makes suggestive,unwelcome comments to
female customers. There is poor lighting in the vestibule and it smells a bit musty.
Okay I’ve laid it on a bit to make it easy. But these first impressions are
what are staying with your customers. And no matter how good the service of your sales reps inside the store, nor
how perfect the display and quality and price of your products, the overall impression of the store is the one
formed when the customer ran the gauntlet from outside.
So these pieces of the jigsaw are affecting the overall picture. And the
solution is to change and eliminate the pieces from the picture.
You have the street cleaned up, and find a better way of getting trash
collected from the rear of the building. The vagrants and hawkers are moved on by your security personnel. Tony the
sleaze is fired. The vestibule is made light and bright and fresh. The ladies start to love your store
We have partially covered this already in talking about taking up
different angles during the observation stage.
Take that further though. Sherlock Holmes, when he was on a case, was like a bloodhound. He’d
be down on his knees peering at cracks in the floor boards, bounding through windows, over chairs, up to the
ceiling. You can picture him now with magnifying glass in hand, deerstalker hat on his head, eyes sharply focussed
"He was out on the lawn, in through the window,round the room, and up into the
bedroom,for all the world like a dashing foxhound drawing a cover."
--The Devil's Foot
This is the nitty-gritty, down in the dirt, aspect of problem solving. Don’t be afraid of the
minutiae. The solution lies in the details.
In business, you have to be willing to plunge into the details. Delve into the numbers, get
dirty and sweaty as your burrow into the facts. Immerse yourself in the search for the answers.
4. Imagination - the workshop of the mind
Sherlock Holmes often sought seclusion to help him
solve a problem; he would remove himself right away from all disturbance so that he could use his imagination to
freely explore the problem from all angles.
As with Einstein, Holmes would take up the fiddle to help himself relax. While
one part of his mind would be occupied with playing the violin, the greater part of his mind was able to roam free
and form new ideas.
Holmes referred to the imagination as the mother of truth. In his times of reverie, he could
allow the interplay of ideas to generate new insights into whatever case was taxing him at that time.
So there you have it. You are just as much a genius as Sherlock Holmes. Take a little inspiration
from him and stretch your mind... You'll be amazed at what you discover about yourself.
Sherlock Holmes’ thinking secrets
English teacher, Susan 'Sherlock' Sweet, spotted
the 'deliberate error' in the article above and gave me a beautiful scolding. Can you tell what it is?
I'd love to hear from YOU! Email me: wily[at]wilywalnut.com
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