Apple Boxing Method

In this mini-series I’ve been talking about different ways to think about problems. The methods come from Edward DeBono’s book, Teaching Thinking. So far we’ve covered the North-South method and the Birdwatching method.

Next up is the Apple Sorting Method. With this method we create arbitrary categories to ensure the items are properly examined. Through careful examination we will see other traits and characteristics. The categories themselves are arbitrary. Our real objective is actually careful examination.

For example: my dad has an apple orchard. He uses the apples to make apple wine. Before taking the apples to the press he needs them sorted according to size (“large” and “small”). My niece sits down with a pile of apples and examines each one carefully before putting it into the “large” or “small” pile. While making the piles she finds a number of apples are wormy or have other buggy defects. She puts these apples into a third pile. When she finishes she calls my dad over. Delighted with her sorting, he dumps all the apples into a single large bin and takes them off to be pressed into juice.

What was the point of the piles!?the piles are arbitrary, but force careful examination of each object

If dad had asked the “bad” apples to be rejected, some would have been overlooked, and others (which were perfectly fine) might have been thrown out. By using a secondary classification system (size), he is able to get a nuanced rejection of apples that were “just bad enough” to be neither big nor small.

To help learners use this framework we need to identify:

  • arbitrary classification systems which complement / enforce careful examination (“big” vs. “small”)
  • features that will be intentionally observed as part of the classification (size of the apple relative to the others in the pile)
  • features that are not part of the classification system, but are key to evaluating this type of object (quality of the apple)

The apple sorting method is useful to obtain a careful examination of items. I use the apple sorting method when I ask learners to classify Drupal modules according to the Drupal configuration pillars. Most modules fit into multiple categories, so the learner is forced to examine the module’s traits carefully (thereby learning more about the module) before assigning a category.

This technique is also quite similar to an technique used for for decision making called PMI. Draw up three columns on a sheet of paper and assign the headings: Plus, Minus and Interesting. In the first column write down all the positive results of taking action. In the second column, all of the negative things. In the third column write down the possible outcomes that are neither positive or negative. The column with the most items should help you to decide if you should take the action or not.