innovation | July 15, 2013

Mastermind In The Making: Maria Konnikova On What Inspired Her New Book

As a young child, science speaker Maria Konnikova was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. As she recounts in this podcast, her father would read her Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books every Sunday night while she was growing up. But it wasn't until she was much older—and working on a piece on mindfulness—that she realized the fictional detective books had more to offer than weekend entertainment. "I'd never read them in that light before," Konnikova says, "I'd always read them as works of literature and I'd never read them as ways to explain the psychology of the human mind."

Konnikova remembers having a flashback to one particular part of a Holmes story, where the sleuth asks Watson a question about the stairs outside of a building. Konnikova explains that Watson had no idea how many stairs were in front of that building, that it was an observation he hadn't thought to make. It was this idea of seeing versus observing, and being present versus absent that Konnikova found to be the perfect example of mindfulness. Holmes, she realized, had a lot to teach her about clearer thinking and deeper insights. That's when she started underscoring intriguing examples in Doyle's work and decided to compile them into her new book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

Studying Holmes has also taught her a lot about how to be more productive, she says. For example, she learned how beneficial it is to unplug from distractions and focus on one thing at a time. She has an app, she adds, that blocks the Internet at certain times on her computer. This allows her to really concentrate on what's happening in the moment and be increasingly mindful of her surroundings. Holmes was an expert at this. "While we would do well to remember that even Holmes wasn't born Holmes," Konnikova says: his deductive thinking can be taught. In Mastermind, and her entertaining keynotes, Konnikova shows us how to unlock our inner Holmes to sharpen our creativity and solve the difficult problems we come across in our lives.