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Monday, November 21, 2011

Surface Thinking


Not enough time is spent to develop critical thinking today. We are faced with a tsunami of data each day from 500 channel 24x7 cable and the virtual infinity of the internet. How to sift through or filter all this input remains a constant challenge – trying to make sense from it all.

When there is a speech on television, first you get word-by-word coverage, then a commentator says what the speaker just said. People often will simply recite the commentator's points, rather than thoughts of their own. This is Surface Thinking – Listen (the speech); Hear (commentator’s remarks); Repeat (tell others); Adopt (what they have been repeating).

Surface Thinking is not just about current events – academics can slip into it as well. Years ago I taught a course about employee training and development at the University of Maryland. The textbook gave statistics about companies investing in training and the authors stated that larger organizations invest more in training than smaller ones. Sounds logical – except the stats showed companies with: 100 – 500 employees averaged $467 per employee; 500 – 1,000 employees averaged $317; and 10,000+ employees averaged $446.

When I asked my classes if they agreed with the authors, only a few disagreed – unfortunately most just accepted what the authors said, regardless of what the data showed.

There's a huge difference between surface and critical thinking – here's an illustration (from pre-word processor days): A lawyer types 120 wpm and the Administrative Assistant types 60 wpm – who should type the brief?

Surface Thinkers look at the 60wpm vs. 120wpm and choose the lawyer since speed is twice as fast and therefore more efficient; Critical Thinkers choose the Assistant because only the lawyer can write the brief.

From a leader's perspective, what is the effect of Surface Thinking?

Surface Thinking is fleeting – new idea, new mantra. Communication about the mission, vision, and goals must be frequent and from many sources in the organization;

Listen more carefully to the Critical Thinkers for input and ideas – tap into new thoughts and insight for contributions to the results;

Broaden the development of Critical Thinking skills – use stories, internal case studies, and recognition as developmental tools.

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