A deep dive into one of the 8 Critical Capabilities from the book PowerUp8 BY Debbie Craig
“The quality of all our doing depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.” Nancy Kline
THE QUALITY OF OUR THINKING …
Have you ever made a bad decision? Some decisions have a small impact and help us learn and adapt our daily life strategies or choices. Others can cost us dearly in time, money, broken hearts, health or credibility.
I remember a time during a leadership development program roll-out across Southern Africa where I was driving or flying weekly, or more, to a new destination. I arrived at the airport with my co-facilitator for a late afternoon flight to Kimberly only to find there was a problem with our tickets. Assuming a glitch I hauled out my credit card and paid for the two flights. I did the same in Kimberly for the hire car and the hotel. I was only able to get hold of my local contact much later that evening, only to be informed that we were a week early for our workshop. I could feel the blood draining from my face, as I imagined explaining this to my boss and how long it would take me to pay off the credit card! My amazing project co-ordinator was on leave and the temp hadn’t updated any changes in my diary. I was hugely embarrassed and even won an award for the most embarrassing moment at our company year-end function. It was a costly lesson, but one I could have avoided with a bit of critical thinking and checking of assumptions. My speed over sense (and a tired brain from too many trips and workshops) had compromised my decision-making capability… something that still comes back to bite me today!
What makes us lose our capacity for critical thinking when it matters most?
Our consumption of information has been shifting from books and academic articles to blogs and posts; from the written word to visual pictures, video and audio and from researched facts to popular beliefs and opinions. We now have “Tinglish” (texting English) for abbreviated instant messaging. We have become so busy rushing through our mails, meetings and deadlines, that we don’t have time for deep thinking or debate about problems and solutions. We often take the quickest route or make a gut-feel decision based on the superficial information at hand. We now have Google and apps – for maps, instructions, searching and even deciding. Our education systems have also slid down a slippery slope from robust debate, comprehensive analysis and essays arguing for different perspectives to on-line content and multiple-choice questions. It is no wonder that we are slowly losing our natural ability to memorise details, think critically, analyse, discern facts from fiction, figure out which information is vital for decisions and consider many viewpoints or perspectives of a problem to make wise decisions.
How many times have you sat back after a disaster and wished you had thought things through a bit more thoroughly?
Critical thinking is proactively thinking things through from all perspectives, asking the right questions, filtering for relevant information and objectively analysing and integrating data to make wise collaborative decisions and resolve complex dilemmas in an unpredictable world.
DEFAULT THINKER OR MEANING MAKER?
Whether you are a natural or cultivated critical thinker or not, the good news is that critical thinking can be developed. Just like a computer program or app can be upgraded, so we can update and upgrade our minds – with understanding (learning how to), practice (making new neural pathways) and persistence (continuing and repeating until it is a new habit). Two characters that can assist us to identify and then develop our critical thinking are the default thinker and the meaning maker.
Meaning makers believe that there is always a bigger picture or more perspectives. They believe in asking the right questions and challenging assumptions and opinions. They believe in seeking out simpler and more effective ways to work and communicate. They generally feel patient, expansive, thoughtful, reflective and use language such as: What are we not seeing? How can we simplify or make sense of this? They have daily habits of testing assumptions, drawing systemic diagrams of problems, thinking about unintended consequences and being curious about what different people think.
Default thinkers believe they know the answers, that their time is valuable and that they can get away with brilliant short-cuts. They think that a lot of things are “obvious” and can be resolved with minimum fuss. They generally feel Impatient, arrogant, clever and use language like it’s obvious, can we get this over with? Just do it. Why aren’t you done yet? They have daily habits like making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, taking data or opinion at face value, ignoring other inputs and making some rash decisions.
DAILY HACKS AND HABITS FOR CRITICAL THINKING
Meaning makers have daily habits that help them think things through and make wise decisions. Some of our favourites are outlined below with many more in the book PowerUp8.
Habit # 1: Think fast AND slow
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner for economics explains in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, how two systems in your brain are constantly fighting over control of your behaviour and actions and how this leads to errors in memory, judgment and decisions. Build a daily habit of pausing, breathing deeply to bring back a calm awareness and then only consider your options before rushing into automatic.
Habit # 2: Critical questions
Build your natural questioning repertoire to understand situations more fully. Here are some examples.
Habit #3: Paradigm Busting
We all build a set of paradigms and worldviews as we grow up, socialise and experience life from our own unique lens. Some of our paradigms help us stay safe and achieve success (work hard, save money, minimise risk, avoid certain groups of people, etc). However, some of these paradigms can severely limit our ability to think clearly and creatively. They can also limit who we will listen to and respect, what we will consider, how we show up and the quality of our thinking and decisions. Spend some time investigating, challenging and exploring alternative paradigms in areas such as people, age, money, relationships, family, work, energy, health, etc. See example below.
Habit # 4: Dissenting Voice
We often fall into the trap of confirmation bias i.e. hunting for information that confirms our initial assumptions (which are often self-serving). We need to actively seek out the dissenting voice (the few who disagree with the majority) and ask disconfirming questions. If we can spark constructive disagreement in our teams, we are more likely to think critically about more options and challenge our assumptions and biases.
TIPS, TOOLS AND RESOURCES
We have listed a few MEANING MAKER resources below and many more are in the PowerUp8 book.