Tag Archives: critical thinking

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

philosophyI was having a conversation with my son the other day. We were talking about higher education and business. At some point, those two conversations, while starting out separately, merged. I think it was when he told me about a respected business colleague whose strongly held opinions included the notion that philosophy graduates have no place at a corporate boardroom table. I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since.

It reminded me that in spite of our ever precarious world economy, we continue to cling to what we consider to be tried and true. In so many organizations, finance, economics and the pursuit of individual prosperity continue to be the only subjects worthy of respect and concentration. It used to work. The business world was the land of bottom lines. The workforce did what it was told. The planet was comprised of a collection of unconnected entities. Their markets did not affect each other that much and so they operated in parallel without much worry about the impact they made on each other. They drove for profit and the road to get there was pretty straight.

We still want profit and prosperity…of course we do. But it is a changed world and the route to get there is less evident. That makes leadership more complex than before and the successful leader, a person who must practice both the science and the art of it. It is not that any one individual must have all of the attributes that today’s leadership demands. Rather, leaders must have foresight enough to ask those with skills and perspectives different from their own to sit at the decision table with them.

In my mind that includes extending an invitation to the philosopher.

There are many definitions of philosophy. The simplest one goes like this: Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental assumptions and beliefs”

As well, its purpose is to, “investigate the nature and causes of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning”. This latter definition highlights the difference between philosophic reasoning and empirical data that are gained through observation, experience or experiment. Simply put, the one is many shades of grey and the other, mainly black and white. While I think we have always needed both disciplines to achieve business success, in today’s world there seem to be more grey areas than black and white. And so, those who are skilled in navigating in the fog are needed more than ever before.

When some people think about philosophy, I suspect they conjure up the image of people who spend their days with their heads in the clouds contemplating existentialism or other unearthly ideas. So before this post goes off into the stratosphere somewhere, let’s look at how the philosopher might contribute to business success in more practical terms.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking asks us to question our assumptions. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in general, human beings are really good at assuming. Someone who undertakes the role of philosopher around the decision making table would serve a more than useful purpose by questioning the things we take for granted and challenging our sacred cows. After all, in these rapidly changing times, nothing seems to be sacred any more. Those things we assume or hold so dear could be the very things that get in the way of achieving the prosperity we seek.

Tolerance for diverse opinion

Those with a philosophical leaning have a greater tolerance for diverse opinion because they are curious about ideas; where they come from and their potential for useful application. Developing this kind of tolerance is important. It helps to keep the mind open to possibilities outside the boundaries of current understanding. And, somewhere among all those thoughts and ideas is often something truly worthwhile. It’s like mining for gold. A lot of digging has to happen before the treasure can be found.

Systems thinking

Now more than ever we must seek to understand patterns and how ideas, choices and actions influence each other. Through technology, the World has become more accessible to more people. We see more. We experience more. And we know too, that whatever we choose to do in our individual worlds will affect something else, somewhere else. More often than not, the philosophical types will be the ones who see the connection first and ask the questions that need to be asked so that decisions made and actions taken align with current reality and future possibility.

Do I mean that we must abandon our focus on finance and economics and Individual prosperity? No, I’m not suggesting that. I am suggesting that we make room for greater focus on the way we achieve prosperity; on expanding our definition of what it means to be prosperous; by thinking systemically and critically; and by building our tolerance for diverse ideas and opinion.

Bertrand Russell once said, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

I think the philosophy graduate might be just the person to help us do that.

What do you think?

Note:  This post was originally published in May, 2012

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

observe-look-magnifying-glassIn Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too. At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto. At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle. Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation. It is part of a mental process that Edgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it. We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other. We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead. The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what. As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste. Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on giving time to observation and critical thinking. Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for. And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway? What do you think?

Note: Originally published in August, 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams

Making Key Distinctions ~ Not Just The Facts Ma’am

This post, from 2011, touches on the importance of critical thinking and its role in the process of decision-making.

===========================================

Lately I’ve been pondering on the importance of critical thinking as a vital leadership skill.  When I talk about critical thinking I’m referring to a conscious, deliberate and focused mental practice that allows us to uncover accurate information on which we can make sound judgments and take meaningful action. So, it’s a big deal.

It is, of course, such a big deal that it requires much more than one blog post to examine. But, it occurred to me that often, one of the things that gets in the way of our ability to think critically is the way we process incoming information particularly as it pertains to the rather fuzzy distinctions we tend to make between facts, inferences, opinions and assumptions.  So, in this blog post, I think I might be able to at least shed a little light on that.

Let’s look at the definition of each of these words:

Fact is something known with certainty that can be objectively demonstrated and verified;

Inference is an interpretation of events that provides explanations for situations in which all of the facts are not available or yet to be determined;

Opinion is a subjective statement based on personal beliefs and;

Assumption is a supposition or idea that is unsubstantiated by fact or conscious reasoning.

To the critical thinker, the goal in processing new information is to get as close to fact as possible.  Facts are hard evidence.  I think it safe to say that the farther away we get from fact, the less reliable will be our evidence.  As such, it is an important leadership skill to be able to clearly identify sources of information and put them in the proper perspective.  This does not mean that facts are the only basis on which leaders will make a decision. However, it does allow them to place value on the information received and guide the decision-making process accordingly.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean when we draw conclusions based on our personal observations.  It comes from a course that my colleague and friend, Maureen Hannah and I developed on the subject of critical thinking.   It is a schematic meant to illustrate the possible conclusions that could be drawn from available information.

I think that consciously discerning between fact, inference, opinion and assumption makes room for clarity in decision-making.  As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “ Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts”

What do you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Tackling Problems ~ How Big is Your “O”?

Problems.  Whether we choose to call them that or, (in the interests of putting a more positive spin on them), refer to them as ‘challenges’ they are part of life.  In the workplace, where time is of the essence, there are many problems to be solved.  And yet, much of that time can be wasted when people spend it working on the wrong problem.  It happens.

I think it happens because of the very human tendency to jump right into action without employing the critical thinking required to ensure it will lead to a good solution.

For example, many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto.  At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle.  Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation.  It is part of a mental process thatEdgar Schein refers to as ORJI in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel, and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of our deplorable “team” effort, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge ahead or trying to understand it.  We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other.  We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead.  The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”

Having said that, not surprisingly, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how we might delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information we are working with is accurate.

Gather factual data about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending our feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid information.

Ask questions and, when finished asking, ask some more.

If the problem is particularly perplexing it’s important to go deeper and wider asking questions of people who are, or will be, affected by it.

Determine what we might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating our assumptions is never a waste.  Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for dissenting views.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, often it is the dissenting view that holds the clue to a solution.

=========================================================

I guess the bottom line is this. We are always going to experience problems.  Spending a little more time in “O”bservation will help us to address them in a way that provides the best chance of coming up with the best solution.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

9 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

In Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too.  At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto.  At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle.  Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation.  It is part of a mental process thatEdgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it.  We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other.  We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead.  The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: oRJI

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what.  As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste.  Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on  giving time to observation and critical thinking.  Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for.  And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway?  What do you think?

13 Comments

Filed under communication, Leadership, Leading Teams

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

I was having a conversation with my son the other day.  We were talking about higher education and business.  At some point, those two conversations, while starting out separately, merged.  I think it was when he told me about a respected business colleague whose strongly held opinions included the notion that philosophy graduates have no place at a corporate boardroom table.  I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since.

It reminded me that in spite of our teetering world economy, we continue to cling to what we consider to be tried and true.  In so many organizations, finance, economics and the pursuit of individual prosperity continue to be the only subjects worthy of respect and concentration.   It used to work.  The business world was the land of bottom lines.  The workforce did what it was told.   The planet was comprised of a collection of unconnected entities.  Their markets did not affect each other that much and so they operated in parallel without much worry about the impact they made on each other.  They drove for profit and the road to get there was pretty straight.

We still want profit and prosperity…of course we do.  But it is a changed world and the route to get there is less evident. That makes leadership more complex than before and the successful leader, a person who must practice both the science and the art of it.   It is not that any one individual must have all of the attributes that today’s leadership demands.   Rather, leaders must have foresight enough to ask those with skills and perspectives different from their own to sit at the decision table with them.

In my mind that includes extending an invitation to the philosopher.

There are many definitions of philosophy.   The simplest one goes like this:   Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental assumptions and beliefs”

As well, its purpose is to, “investigate the nature and causes of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning”.  This latter definition highlights the difference between philosophic reasoning and empirical data that are gained through observation, experience or experiment.  Simply put, the one is many shades of grey and the other, mainly black and white.  While I think we have always needed both disciplines to achieve business success, in today’s world there seem to be more grey areas than black and white.  And so, those who are skilled in navigating in the fog are needed more than ever before.

When some people think about philosophy, I suspect they conjure up the image of people who spend their days with their heads in the clouds contemplating existentialism or other unearthly ideas. So before this post goes off into the stratosphere somewhere, let’s look at how the philosopher might contribute to business success in more practical terms.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking asks us to question our assumptions.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in general, human beings are really good at assuming. Someone who undertakes the role of philosopher around the decision making table would serve a more than useful purpose by questioning the things we take for granted and challenging our sacred cows.  After all, in this new and rapidly changing time, nothing seems to be sacred any more.  Those things we assume or hold so dear could be the very things that get in the way of achieving the prosperity we seek.

Tolerance for diverse opinion

Those with a philosophical leaning have a greater tolerance for diverse opinion because they are curious about ideas; where they come from and their potential for useful application. Developing this kind of tolerance is important.   It helps to keep the mind open to possibilities outside the boundaries of current understanding. And, somewhere among all those thoughts and ideas is often something truly worthwhile.  It’s like mining for gold.  A lot of digging has to happen before the treasure can be found.

Systems thinking

Now more than ever we must seek to understand patterns and how ideas, choices and actions influence each other.  Through technology, the World has become more accessible to more people.  We see more.  We experience more.  And we know too, that whatever we choose to do in our individual worlds will affect something else, somewhere else.  More often than not, the philosophical types will be the ones who see the connection first and ask the questions that need to be asked so that decisions made and actions taken align with current reality and future possibility.

Do I mean that we must abandon our focus on finance and economics and Individual prosperity?  No, I’m not suggesting that.  I am suggesting that we make room for greater focus on the way we achieve prosperity; on expanding our definition of what it means to be prosperous; by thinking systemically and critically; and by building our tolerance for diverse ideas and opinion.

Bertrand Russell once said,  “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

I think the philosophy graduate might be just the person to help us do that.

What do you think?

38 Comments

Filed under diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, NOWLeadership, Organizational Effectiveness

Making Key Distinctions ~ Not Just The Facts Ma’am

Lately I’ve been pondering on the importance of critical thinking as a vital leadership skill.  When I talk about critical thinking I’m referring to a conscious, deliberate and focused mental practice that allows us to uncover accurate information on which we can make sound judgments and take meaningful action. So, it’s a big deal.

It is, of course, such a big deal that it requires much more than one blog post to examine. But, it occurred to me that often, one of the things that gets in the way of our ability to think critically is the way we process incoming information particularly as it pertains to the rather fuzzy distinctions we tend to make between facts, inferences, opinions and assumptions.  So, in this blog post, I think I might be able to at least shed a little light on that.

Let’s look at the definition of each of these words:

Fact is something known with certainty that can be objectively demonstrated and verified;

Inference is an interpretation of events that provides explanations for situations in which all of the facts are not available or yet to be determined;

Opinion is a subjective statement based on personal beliefs and;

Assumption is a supposition or idea that is unsubstantiated by fact or conscious reasoning.

To the critical thinker, the goal in processing new information is to get as close to fact as possible.  Facts are hard evidence.  I think it safe to say that the farther away we get from fact, the less reliable will be our evidence.  As such, it is an important leadership skill to be able to clearly identify sources of information and put them in the proper perspective.  This does not mean that facts are the only basis on which leaders will make a decision. However, it does allow them to place value on the information received and guide the decision-making process accordingly.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean when we draw conclusions based on our personal observations.  It comes from a course that my colleague and friend, Maureen Hannah and I developed on the subject of critical thinking.   It is a schematic meant to illustrate the possible conclusions that could be drawn from available information.

I think that consciously discerning between fact, inference, opinion and assumption makes room for clarity in decision-making.  As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “ Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts”

What do you think?

11 Comments

Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Organizational Effectiveness