I love the story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. To anyone unfamiliar with this story, The Hound of The Baskervilles is about Henry Baskerville, a man that inherits an ancestral manor that is stepped in legend and misfortune. By the end of the story, you learn that a distant relation, who also has a claim to the manor, has schemed to bring the legend of the hound to life, with the intention of killing Henry and claiming Baskerville Manor for himself.
The thing I want to bring to the forefront is the level of attention to detail that Holmes delivers in the story. When Holmes surveys a note that Henry Baskerville receives, warning him to stay away, he highlights the fact that the letters have been cut out of a specific newspaper.
We catch up on the story. ‘Really, Mr. Holmes, this exceeds anything which I could have imagined,’ said Dr. Mortimer, gazing at my friend in amazement. ‘I could understand anyone saying that the words were from a newspaper; but that you should name which, and add that it came from the leading article, is really one of the most remarkable things which I have ever known. How did you do it?’
Holmes responds. ‘This is my special hobby, and the differences are equally obvious. There is as much difference to my eyes between the leaded bourgeois type of a Times article and the slovenly print of an evening half-penny paper as there could be between your negro and your Esquimau. (Reference to Dr. Mortimer's ability to identify different ethnicities based on skulls.) The detection of types is one of the most elementary branches of knowledge to the special expert in crime, though I confess that once when I was very young I confused the Leeds Mercury with the Western Morning News. But a Times leader is entirely distinctive, and these words could have been taken from nothing else. As it was done yesterday the strong probability was that we should find the words in yesterday’s issue.’
His logic is sound and his attention to detail is impeccable. How did Holmes identify the type font? He had studied the subject in detail before encountering it. It wasn't as if he had seen the type font for the first time and miraculously knew what he was looking at. He spent time studying newspapers.
YOU ALREADY THINK LIKE HOLMES
This accumulation of expert knowledge that Holmes has isn't unique to the great detective. We all have various skills and special knowledges that help us in our day to day lives. You already think like Sherlock because you already spend time gaining expert knowledge to enhance your current skills in your field of study.
Are you a mechanic? You likely already have special knowledge about fixing or diagnosing car problems. Are you a school teacher? You probably have ways of telling when students are fully engaged or not. Are you a programmer? You probably have a series of approaches you take to problem solving that helps you to solve most programming issues. Are you a video game player? You likely have specific knowledge about gameplay and stages that greatly contribute towards your success in gameplay.
What's the point? The point is that we all have expert knowledge in our various fields of study. This expertise helps you to solve complex problems and know things that a non expert wouldn't know. You are already think a lot like Sherlock Holmes. One of the biggest differences in his thinking compared to most people however, probably has to do with the level of attention to detail that he brings to the table.
When he sees the details related to a subject in question, he takes it to absolutes. There are no maybes when he reaches his conclusions. Our brains love to be lazy and that's not something we can say about Holmes and his thinking. When Henry reasons out how the person who sent him the note did it, he gets the logic correct, but his attention to the details are missing.
We catch up on the conversation, ‘So far as I can follow you, then, Mr. Holmes,’ said Sir Henry Baskerville, ‘someone cut out this message with a scissors—
‘ ‘Nail-scissors,’ said Holmes. ‘You can see that it was a very short-bladed scissors, since the cutter had to take two snips over ‘keep away.’’
‘That is so. Someone, then, cut out the message with a pair of short-bladed scissors, pasted it with paste—
‘ ‘Gum,’ said Holmes. ‘With gum on to the paper. But I want to know why the word ‘moor’ should have been written?’
I laugh at this scene as it plays in my head because I can imagine Holmes mentally just correcting things people say and do constantly. His mind is honed in on the details. But that's the thing that makes him such a great detective. It is his attention to detail, not just his logic that impresses us. While Henry got the concept, the general idea about what Holmes is thinking, Holmes knows in every detail of what he sees.
What's the take away for us? While we may already have special knowledge or skill, if we want to take our expertise to the next level, we need to make sure that what we know isn't just sound logically but we want to focus in on the details.
I asked my sister, "what does the saying 'the devil is in the details actually mean?'" She said that 'the concept comes from the idea that we make the most mistakes when we aren't tuned into the details. So we get in trouble.' If you think about it, it's sort of true that when we don't focus on details, we can get into a lot of trouble, especially when the stakes are high.
Imagine a surgeon that is about to close a patient up after a surgery. He has a series of clamps and other surgical material that needs to be accounted for. If he didn't count the clamps before the surgery, and count them afterwards, a small lapse in memory could spell disaster for the patient and the career of the surgeon. The lack of attention to detail causes the biggest problems.
Once again, if we want to improve our current skill level and think at a little higher level, we need to focus on the details of our craft. We should be relentless about the details. In so doing, we can improve our thinking and ability to solve even the most complex of problems.
Let's close this post with something Holmes says in the Hound of The Baskervilles. "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." Let's do the same thing.