February  2015     Edition 111
Four steps to become a critical thinking organization

Excite, Educate, Support and Sustain


Excite

:  It’s an investment to learn anything new.  Critical Thinking is no different.  Learning takes time; time to learn, time to practice, time to study, time to explain. It’s work. Martin Luther King said, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

The first thing you have to do is get people excited about learning critical thinking.  Get them excited about the benefits … to their careers, to their everyday job, to their personal lives.  Here are some ideas to get people excited about critical thinking:
•  Distribute some articles regarding the beneifts of thinking critically.
•  Bring in a speaker to motivate them in learning some tools to put in their toolbox.
•  Buy them a book to read and suggest they read the first 20 to 30 pages.  It shouldn’t take more than that for them to be engaged.    There are lots of books out there by noted authors on critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, innovation, etc.  The objective here is to get them interested in the subject and not necessarily to learn the skill at this time. 
•  Educate a few who can evangelize the benefits.
•  Decide that this is something you really want to do, and put it down as a corporate (or team) goal.

Educate

:
Some people can learn by reading a book and off they go.  So for those folks, suggest that they read the whole book you gave them in step 1. Note: It will be important to givethem the book that conforms to the framework you choose to teach others.

Other people need instruction, a class, a workshop.  They need to roll up their sleeves, try it, talk about it, practice with others, watch others and learn by example.   For these folks, send them to a workshop (or bring one in).

Make sure the training is relevant to your business and incorporates the tools that can  be used every day in the real world of their work.  Don’t train people in a hypothetical abstract notion and expect them to translate and figure out how to use it. 

Support


I inevitably get this question; “OK, now that I'm excited about critical thinking and I have been trained to use it, how do I get others, my boss, or my boss’s boss, to support it …  and to think critically too?”.

I’ll hear stories like; “My group was tasked with a problem, and a few of us who took the critical thinking course started to ask some clarifying questions and our manager said, "Look, we really don’t have time for these questions, just let’s get this done’”. 

Of course, there are times when critical thinking isn’t necessary, or when the incremental value is not worth the effort, but with a single instance of inappropriately shutting down a conversation , people will come to the conclusion that they can’t use critical thinking because “thinking” isn’t really supported (even though it’s asked for).

In short, managers, senior managers and leaders need

step 1 and 2 also.   They need to be excited about the benefits.  They need to be educated with respect  to why critical thinking is important and how to accomplish it.   Not everyone will need  all the training to support it, but some education is mandatory in order for senior  management and leadership to evolve their organization into a critical thinking one  and to recognize the value and support the use of critical thinking.

Sustain


Critical thinking isn’t a one shot deal, and before it becomes part of your culture, you  have to work at keeping in front and center.   Here are a few ideas for that:
  • Hold people accountable for using it;  In meetings, in emails, in conversations. Here’s where management is important.   For example, if a manager is in a meeting with their team who is presenting a solution, the manager should ask critical thinking questions.   If the team knows this will happen, they will prepare for those questions.
  • Make critical thinking part of individual goals.
  • Hold critical thinking brown bag discussions.
  • Appoint and train some people to be Thinking Coaches. 
  • Modify processes to incorporate critical thinking steps.  If the process is be followed and the process has critical thinking steps, then critical thinking will be followed.
  • Highlight critical thinking successes.
  • Challenge people to find new places / instances to implement critical thinking.

The Takeaway:
  A program to Excite, Educate, Support and Sustain critical  thinking will, within a short period of time, transform an organization into a critical  thinking one.  You’ll be absolutely amazed at the results.

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