How To Use the PMI Technique to Improve Your Thinking

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PMI Technique

"Is the glass half empty, half full, or twice as large as it needs to be?"  — Anonymous

Don’t fall into the intelligence tap.  The intelligence trap is when you get trapped in one point of view.

You make your mind up based on your first opinion. 

Once you form your initial opinion, you use your thinking to support your position, rather than to explore the subject to broaden your thinking.

The solution is to use the PMI technique to improve your thinking.  The PMI technique is a thinking technique to find the Plus Points, Minus Points, and Interesting Points about the issue before you form an opinion.

In Tactics: The Art and Science of Success, Edward de Bono writes about using the PMI technique to improve your thinking.

Avoid the Intelligence Trap

According to de Bono, we can avoid the Intelligence Trap by exploring the positive, negative and interesting angles of any idea.

Via Tactics: The Art and Science of Success:

“Many highly intelligent people are caught  in the intelligence trap:  they take a position on a subject and then they use their thinking skill solely to support that position.  The more able they are to support the position, the less do they see any need actually to explore the subject: so they become trapped into one point of view.  The PMI formula forces a scan.  Once a perception has been broadened in this way, the thinker cannot unthink what is now in front of them.”

Overview of the PMI Technique

Use the PMI Technique to find the Plus Points, Minus points, and Interesting points.  Structure your thinking so that before you form an opinion, you explore the up sides, the down sides, and the interesting points of the issue.  When you form you opinion, it will include more points of view to help you make a more balanced decision.

Summary of Steps

Here is a summary of the steps to use the PMI Technique:

  • Step 1. Consider the Plus Points of the Situation.
  • Step 2. Consider the Minus Points of the Situation.
  • Step 3. Consider the Interesting Points of the Situation.
  • Step 4. Make your decision.

Step 1. Consider the Plus Points of the Situation.

In this step, simply enumerate all of the positive things you can think of.  Don’t critique yourself along the way, simply dump out all the positive points that you can think of.

Step 2. Consider the Minus Points of the Situation.

In this step, enumerate all of the negative things you can think of.  Again, don’t critique yourself.  Simply dump out all the negative points you can think of.

Step 3. Consider the Interesting Points of the Situation.

In this step, enumerate all the interesting points that you can think of.   Rather than positive or negative, they are simply points of interest that you should direct your attention to.

Step 4. Make Your Decision

In this step, you make your decision.  You can now choose more effectively because you’ve scanned and organized three important pieces of information: the positives, the negatives, and the interesting.

The key to remember in all this is it’s not about simply counting up the positive or negatives.  Some items may be trivial while others may be incredibly significant.  Instead, the process of structuring your thinking helps you see the full forest and to see the forest for the trees.

How I use the PMI Technique at Work

I run into the Intelligence Trap a lot at work.  It usually happens when somebody wants to play the Devil’s advocate.  They start with what’s wrong with things and then they get locked in.  The most effective thinkers I know, first find what’s right (this helps build rapport and gets more information out). Next, they find what’s wrong.  It’s a simple pattern, but it’s way more effective than getting lock into one side or another.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. This is an interesting concept, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to be learning from this post. You repeat “Avoid the Intelligence Trap” and “Use the PMI Method” three times in three different ways, but they all said basically the same thing. I notice there is a link to a book, but this post doesn’t appear to be a review either. Is this just an advertisement?

  2. @ Louisa

    The surprise is you might not know when you fall into it. You’ll actually surprise yourself, but you have to deliberately force yourself to find what’s right with something first or what’s the pro side. It’s especially surprising if you usually see the con side. If you only see the pro side, this will help you from getting blindsided by seeing the con side.

  3. @ Andrew

    You should minimally walk away with two very pointed things:
    1. There’s a common cognitive bias, which is to form an opinion, before exploring other points of view. This is the Intelligence Trap.
    2. Before you form an opinion, force yourself to find the pros, then find the cons, then interesting points.

    That’s it. It’s simpler said than done though.

    The problem with #1 is it’s so powerful that even stating it, you still might not recognize it, even in yourself. You make up your mind, then all your questions that sound like questions, are simply trying to prove your point.

    You might recognize it in others if you notice that you’re answering a bunch of questions, but it’s not changing their opinion. You’re falling for red herrings. They aren’t exploring the point, they’re trying to prove their point.

  4. This one resonates with me a lot.

    Sometimes I throw “crazy” ideas that are immediately banned but lately adopted.

    How I approach the problem? I am trying to find similar situation in other areas and reflect on the solutions THEY have.

    It is very natural for people to ban the idea since it does not belong to the subject in question (MINUS), but then they buy in since in that other area the idea actually works(PLUS) which makes it INTERESTING to try it out.

  5. @ Alik

    That’s a great example.

    When you try to first understand the other person’s solution, not only are you finding the (PLUS) side, but you’re building empathic listening, They’ll feel heard and you’ll build rapport. Rapport before influence.

    On the (MINUS) side, when folks start there, it’s tough to get past because you waste all your energy answering questions that aren’t about understanding or exploring, they’ve already made up their find. To break out of the trap, you have to ask exploratory questions such as:
    – “what’s right with this?”
    – “how might this work?”
    – “what are the potential upside or pro sides?”

  6. @ Andrew

    I thought of a very simple example.

    At work yesterday, I asked each person on the team to write 3 strengths of each person. No weaknesses.

    We always find each others weaknesses, since we’re a critical team. This was about balancing the perspectives. It forced each person to explore the strengths side.

    Each person on the team walk away with not only a list of their strengths, but a broader perspective on each team member’s contribution.

    Simple, but effective.

  7. @ JD

    Thanks for the additional explanation. I was thinking this was more an in-depth concept for problem solving when it’s more of a big-picture concept to adjust one’s frame of mind. It makes more sense now re-reading it. Thanks!

  8. I think this is a quick technique that points to a larger point of looking at something from more than one point of view. You six thinking hats post is another.

    Makes sense to look at an issue from multiple sides so you what may be the opposing points of view.

    So I see the method as doubly useful.

  9. @ Rob

    Good connection between the PMI and the Six Thinking Hats. In fact, I haven’t checked yet, but I wonder whether the PMI was a simple precursor, since it’s the same guy. I suspect he first figured out a way to change perspectives and saw value in positive, negative and interesting. I think the six perspectives would be an obvious elaboration.

  10. I see PMI as a concept for dealing with communication. You may do this proactively or reactively, depending on the circumstances.

    Most people have default position(s) of thinking for example analytical and data driven. If you know their preferences you can recognize and appreciate that and help apply the position in a constructive way. You may ask them directly or even get that knowledge widely shared.

    “Six thinking hats” and “Disney’s Creative strategy” (formulated by Robert Dilts – see summary on website) that focuses on dreamer, realist and critique phases are both strategies that may help you having the dialog from idea to plan. The Disney strategy encourages one to split the three phases over time. The dreamer phase has it similarities with a brainstorm, during which you attempt to let the brain wander more freely.

    I suggest that being cognizant of what you and others think and communicate is helpful. PMI is another tool to do this and be more resourceful – individually or as a group.

  11. @ Per

    Good points. I agree on figuring out the default position and integrating it. It’s inclusive and it enables you to point out which slice of the pie they are on, as well as mapping out the bigger pie.

  12. I do not understand what are the advantages and disadvantages in using this technique. It has to have something really good about it.

  13. I’m going to save this page. i don’t know anything about this technique, but i hope this article will be useful for my project. i need more information about this technique. it is emergency! for tomorrow oh no… could you please help me???

  14. I am doin a project on improving the health and living of thai people . I am assigned to use the PMI technique in the project but i dun understand how to use it .. can anyone help me with the solution ?

  15. @ Vimmie — Your bet bet is to grab Edward de Bono’s book — Tactics: The Art and Science of Success, where he explains more on the PMI technique.

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