January  2016
Innovation and Critical Thinking
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Innovation and Critical Thinking
Innovation is often described as “something new or improved that obtains a positive result”.   This can be a new process or procedure, a new service, a new product, or just a different way to get something accomplished.

The above however is just the first part of innovation, and amazingly so, often the easier piece.   The other major challenge of Innovation is getting the “new or modified” supported, approved, adopted and implemented.

Critical Thinking plays a role in both steps.  For this post, I’m going to focus on the second step.   Throughout my career, I’ve seen numerous innovative ideas from dozens and dozens of people evaporate because the second step was not well thought out.  Simply put, coming up with an idea is one thing, being able to “sell it” is quite another.

Ever hear this from leadership? “Hey, we need to think outside-the-box on this one”.   This sometimes helps to inspire a group to really get out there and come up with some truly outside-the-box notions.   What often happens is that the idea is presented and it’s “too radical”, “too far-fetched”, “too risky”.  What that leader really wanted was the group to come up with ideas outside-their-box, but not outside-the-leaders box.   [When I hear “think outside-the-box”, I first ask “what’s the box”, because you can’t think outside of it until you know what it is.  [See Think Outside the box former post or read Chapter 27 in Think Smarter.]

A very real and often substantial challenge with Innovation is getting others to understand it, agree with it, support it, and approve it.  Then, there are changes that are probably required, changes in processes, changes in behavior, perhaps organization changes.  Methods that have been used for decades might need to change, perhaps completely discarded.  People’s jobs might change, they might need to re-tool, and be retrained.   Innovation, while exciting, can be a very scary place.

One of the most important components of innovation is risk.   The very people who have to approve something innovative may not have any experience with that innovation.  They have no track record, and no way to compare it to what they know, what they are familiar with, and what they have been comfortable with for 20+ years.   Because of this, it’s almost inevitable, that people will be uncomfortable with an innovative idea because it’s outside of their experience and comfort zone.

Enter Critical Thinking

In Critical Thinking we learn how people come to conclusions, and how to support those conclusions.   We learn about what drives disagreements and how to deal with that.  We look at the assumptions behind decisions, and why those assumptions are being made.  We look at ways to validate assumptions.  We look at how our experiences are influencing us, and how our lack of experience may play a role.  We look at the data, what others have done, and said, and how that plays a role.   We distinguish verifiable, absolutely true facts, from hearsay. 

Critical Thinking also includes understanding the beliefs, bias and emotions that people have, and how that influences them.  (Note:  Contrary to what many assume, critical thinking isn’t thinking without emotion …  wish it was true, but we’re human and you can’t think without emotion … sorry).

Critical Thinking provides us with the foundation to present and support our innovative ideas in ways to help others understand them, how we got there, what was considered, what the risks are, how they can be monitored and mitigated.  We acknowledge uncertainty and how that’s going to be addressed.

In short, Critical Thinking enables us provide confidence in our thinking and our understanding of the problem, the solutions, the implementation, the changes, the dependencies, the consequences, the risks, and the value.   With this, others gain confidence, and are open to listening, and considering the possibility, and to move forward.

The Takeaway:
Innovation is successful when there is a new idea and only when that new idea is supported, accepted and implemented.   Critical Thinking plays a pivotal role in both those steps.
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