Sherlock Holmes is, without a doubt, one of the most popular fictional characters to ever have existed and it’s no surprise why we’re so fascinated with him.   

While it’s true that his stories contain lots of mystery and thrill, but he’s also a character who can make logical deductions from the most scarce evidence, and we find that intrinsically intriguing.  We find characters who are hyper-intelligent to be extremely fascinating.

And what’s better about Sherlock Holmes is that he’s not a superhero. He is human. 

So, can we also think like Sherlock Holmes? The answer is yes!  

We can think like Sherlock by harnessing three of the core mental strategies: deep observation, skepticism, and probabilistic thinking. 

 

Observe 

Holmes is a keen observer of his surroundings. He doesn’t just nonchalantly see or perceive his environment like us; he observes it with scrutiny, taking it all in and storing away details that other people would completely miss out on or forget really quickly.  

This well-practiced power of observation allows him to tie together every single small detail in order to form conclusions. And this is a skill that’s useful not just in detective work, but in almost any field.  

So, how does one observe like Sherlock?  

To become a keen observer, it is important to be an active participant in everything that is going on in your life. Be as present-minded as you can. When you’re having a conversation with somebody else, listen actively. Try to formulate questions in your head to dig into what they are saying. And when you’re traveling around or going about your business, don’t look at your phone to avoid dividing up your attention.  

 

Be Skeptical:  

The Athenian playwright Euripides once wrote that “Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.” 

This resonates very deeply with Sherlock Holmes who brings an organic skepticism to every case that he faces. Not only does he listen to his clients and observe the details of a case or a crime scene deeply and scientifically, but he also compares what he has seen and observed to his current model of reality and all of his background knowledge.  

One powerful strategy comes from the author Maria Konnikova, who wrote the book “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”. Her advice is to actively work on noticing what is priming your thoughts and influencing your decisions. This means to think about any external factors that might be influencing your decision and try to get rid of them.  

As she states in the book, “A prime stops being a prime once we’re aware of its existence. Bring any attention at all to the priming mechanism and you’ll likely find the effect go down to zero. When we’re aware of the reason for our action, it stops influencing us.” 

This will help you ascertain that when you come to a conclusion, you can point to the logical deduction or the observable evidence that caused it.  

 

Think About Probability:  

Finally, Sherlock Holmes’ ability to make deductions and solve cases hinges on his ability to think in terms of probabilities. Therefore, he thinks, “What is most likely to happen?” 

When Holmes is working on a case, he thinks like a scientist, and he uses the scientific method, forming hypotheses as he goes along and testing them against new data as it’s discovered. And since that data is almost never completely conclusive, he generates many different hypotheses, and then he tries to figure out which one is the most likely candidate.  

How can we apply this thinking to our lives?  

In real life, probabilistic thinking can actually help you find things that you’ve lost a lot more quickly than the most commonly recommended solution which is to mentally retrace your steps.  

If you think probabilistically, and you ask yourself what is the most likely place I would have, say, taken out my wallet, what is the most likely place? Could it be someplace where I was distracted? When was I the most distracted? Could it be when I was talking on the phone? Where was I talking on the phone?.  

There are lots of other techniques that Sherlock Holmes used to think probabilistically, but one of them, which Sherlock would have surely used in his investigations, and which is very closely related to probability, is game theory.  

If you’re interested in learning about game theory, get in touch with one of GTL’s Linkers. That could be your stepping stone into thinking like Sherlock.