• David de Souza

Super Thinking Book Summary

Updated: Mar 23


Some people are given a toolbox on their 18th birthday. This book is a toolkit for the mind. I wish I had received this book when I became an adult. I learned more from this book than I did during 18 years of formal education. It is almost impossible to summarise this book because each page is so useful





Want to dig deeper than the core principles? Check out:

Core Principles

I have summarised 'Super Thinking' and distilled the book into 13 core principles:

  1. We are surrounded by chaotic systems, adaptability is vital to our success.

  2. Invert always Invert. Inversion can unlock new ideas and solutions. For example, instead of asking: "How can I be healthy?" ask yourself: "How can I be be unhealthy?" Then do the opposite of those things.

  3. Use counterfactual thinking by asking what would have happened if I did a/b/c. How would it have changed the outcome?

  4. People use strategies, tactics and technology that were successful for them in the past. What was useful for the last battle may not be useful now. The most effective strategies change over time. If your opponent is using out of date strategies you can win with a much smaller force.

  5. Rejecting evidence that contradicts established norms is known as the Semmelweis Reflex. For example, doctors washing their hands before surgery.

  6. Institutions will try and preserve the problem to which they are the solution. This is known as the Shirky principle.

  7. Overcome confirmation bias by playing devil's advocate and using ‘thinking in grey concept’.

  8. Unfairness Triggers strong emotions. People know this and will try to influence by framing situations from a fairness perspective.

  9. When making a decision ask someone who has made a similar decision if there are any variables that you may not have considered.

  10. Use the idea from tennis of 'Unforced Errors' when making decisions. For example with dating: Don't make a bad first impression. Dress well.

  11. The Placebo Effect - The BMJ reported that in trials of fake surgeries, 74% saw some improvement and in 51% they improved about as much as the actual surgeries.

  12. As opposed to critical thinking, with lateral thinking you jump between ideas. A technique to help with lateral thinking is to choose a random object or noun from the dictionary and try and associate it to your idea.

  13. When making changes to a situation or system, think about (CHOPS):

  • Cobra Effect

  • Hydra effect

  • Observer effect

  • Principal-agent problem

  • Streisand effect


Remember These Core Principles:

I've condensed the core principles into an image, making memorization easier. Use this image, it's caption, and Quizlet as a memory aid to help you remember the 80/20 from this book:


The devil wants to play a fair game of tennis. What would happen if he rejected established norms and randomly adopted and inverted the variables of the game by: wearing a grey shirt, eating pork chops and placebo pills while reading a dictionary.

Q: What does 'The devil' refer to?

A: Overcome confirmation bias by playing devil's advocate.


Q Why is the devil dressed in a grey shirt?

A1: Using ‘thinking in grey concept’ to Overcome confirmation bias.

A2: The Shirky (shirt!) principle. Institutions will try and preserve the problem to which they are the solution.


Q: What does 'fair' refer to?

A: Unfairness Triggers strong emotions. People know this and will try to influence by framing situations from a fairness perspective.


Q: What does 'playing tennis' refer to?

A: Use the idea from tennis of 'Unforced Errors' when making decisions.


Q: What does 'what would happen' refer to

A: Use counterfactual thinking by asking 'what would have happen(ed)' if I did a/b/c. How would it have changed the outcome?


Q: What does 'reject' and 'norms' refer to?

A: Rejecting evidence that contradicts established norms is known as the Semmelweis Reflex. For example, doctors washing their hands before surgery.


Q: What does 'random' and the 'dictionary' refer to?

A: Choose a random object or noun from the dictionary and try and associate it with your idea.


Q: What does 'adapted' refer to?

A: Adaptability is vital to our success, we are surrounded by chaotic systems.


Q: What does 'invert' refer to?

A: Invert always Invert. Inversion can unlock new ideas and solutions.



Q: What do 'pork chops' refer to?

A: When making changes to a situation or system, think about (CHOPS):

  • Cobra Effect

  • Hydra effect

  • Observer effect

  • Principal-agent problem

  • Streisand effect


Q: What do 'placebo pills' refer to?

A: The Placebo Effect - The BMJ reported that in trials of fake surgeries, 74% saw some improvement and in 51% they improved about as much as the actual surgeries.

Let me know how these summaries can be improved? Contact me via Email (david@thisdomain.co) or on Twitter



The 80/20 of Worldly Wisdom: