Unleashing the Power of Critical Thinking

‘Training for Success’with Bill Russell

Bill Russell has worked with clients globally from a variety of industries including defense, telecom, banking, manufacturing, automotive, aviation, medical equipment, healthcare, and universities. Through the use of workshops, presentations, and interventions, he strives for quick, collaborative implementations that prioritize actions that yield the fastest and largest payback and encourage multiple cycles of learning. In other words, Bill believes in training for success. In this column, Bill offers words of advice on how to get the most out of your training sessions.

Storm Clouds Gather
At a meeting I recently attended, I ran into George, a program manager I have known for many years. I could sense immediately that he was worried and preoccupied, so I asked what was happening.

“We got killed in the last review with the leadership team,” he moaned. “The vice president asked a question or two; a debate started, and then it was like a feeding frenzy. They all started questioning all sorts of elements of our plan. In the end, they said we didn’t have a coherent story— that we couldn’t link all the elements and explain how it all aligned.”

“What did they say to do next?” I asked.

“They told us not to come back until we did our homework,” he replied with a resigned slump of his shoulders. “I thought we did quite a lot of due diligence on all the right elements.”

“Sounds like a real nightmare,” I added. “But, it also sounds familiar. I ran into a similar situation the other day with a team at the other plant, and they have an interesting approach.”

The Clouds Part
They used a process called critical thinking to help teams “connect the dots” when faced with disparate pieces of information. This approach can help teams avoid reliance on mental shortcuts to arrive at conclusions, identify and challenge assumptions, consider multiple alternatives, and play out scenarios to understand the second order of effects. It also helps to anticipate tough questions from customers as well as senior leadership.

The Critical Thinking Process Has A Few Simple Steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Identify alternative solutions
  3. Evaluate the impact
  4. Select the best solution
  5. Tell a compelling story

The First Step: Defining the Problem
It begins with a clear, shared definition of the problem. We’ll be addressing each step in the critical thinking process, but let’s start here.

The same project team I mentioned above called again the other day. They were debating the best way to prepare the problem definition.

“Our draft at this point says, ‘To submit a proposal to the customer or not,'” said the project leader.

“That is the question the leadership team asked,” I replied. “It is a good starting point, but let’s ask one more questions. Let’ go a little deeper. What’s special about this situation? What issues will the leadership be watching for?”

“Our big challenge here is delivering the performance they need in the weight allowed for the cost required… oh I see what you mean, that certainly focuses our attention more closely. Thanks.”

A week later I got a final phone call from the project leader.

“I’m sorry to call again, but we are stuck. We have used the process. We have alternatives. We have gathered guide a bit of data on the impact of the alternatives.  But maybe we flunk critical thinking. We don’t know what to do next.”

What’s next? Stay tuned…

Recommended Reading: Decision Making and Problem Solving in Management
With its light touch and easy-to-follow style, this book can be used for training classes, as a reference for the practicing manager, or as a supplement to college-level supervision or principles of management courses. It begins with a careful conceptual look at how decisions are made and problems are solved. Using a very practical focus, the first seven chapters introduce and support such topics as how to tap into your creativity to develop more options in problem solving, how to better analyze those alternatives, and how decision making is influenced by organizational, group and individual factors. The last four chapters provide over two dozen easy to use tools with specific, step-by-step directions and examples.

To learn more about how RPS can help you unleash the power of critical thinking within your organization, visit our website today.