...but the training of the mind to think.”
When Albert Einstein said these words, the internet did not exist. The networks that did exist in the form of telegraph and telephone did not provide access to data and information as we have now. One could almost say we no longer need to learn facts because we have access to them instantly through any number of Google searches. More importantly, the second part of his quote still resonates today. We would suggest it has become harder to train the mind to think than it was even in Einstein’s day.
Training the mind to think is what critical thinking is all about, especially for 21st Century Leaders. According to Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, critical thinking is where the thinker improves the quality of their thinking based on how they think and the associated intellectual standards. As human beings, much of our thinking is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or prejudiced based on the values and attitudes of our past. We recently wrote about how we are not born with values and progress through various stages of value development before entering the workforce as adults. Therefore, the quality of leadership depends on the quality of the leader’s habit of thought or attitude. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated as any habit would.
Drs. Paul and Elder, as part of the Foundation for Critical Thinking (FCT) speak to a critical thinking process based on three major components: (1) Intellectual Standards that are applied to (2) Elements of Thought that develop (3) Intellectual Traits. Let’s explore each of these as they apply to becoming an effective critical thinking leader:
- Intellectual Standards ~ A lie told a thousand times is still a lie. Having a command of the basic standards of thinking enable leaders to ensure the quality of their reasoning in any situation they encounter. While the FCT lists these standards on their website, the three key standards we see leaders misapply most often are Accuracy, Relevance and Logic. Accuracy is simply whether or not the issue statement is true but also accurate. This is called into question when absolutes like “always” and “never” are used in the discussion. Relevance answers the question of “so what” in the context of the discussion at hand which we see in discussions trying to associate intentions with real results. Lastly, logic implies the facts of discussion are presented in a way that creates a logical connection versus a group of facts that may be true in their own right and yet still not logical in the context of the discussion.
- Elements of Reasoning ~ We live in an information-rich, knowledge -poor world. Leaders are inundated with data and information that is many times acted on out of context for the sake of expedience and convenience. Essentially, this is lazy thinking. Once again, these elements can be found on the FCT website and the three common elements we see leaders needing the most practice in are Information, Assumptions and Point of View. Is the relevant information available and accurate? Are the assumptions questioned with enough rigor that applies to the discussion? Are multiple points of view in the discussion such that objections and alternate ideas can surface?
- Intellectual Traits ~ “A mind that knows how to think is more empowered than a mind that only knows what to think.” Back in mid 2017 we began writing about critical thinking using Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s words as a starting point. Once again, the FCT lists these essential intellectual traits on their website and the three traits we see having the most impact on 21st Century Leaders are Intellectual Courage, Intellectual Integrity and Fairmindedness. It takes courage for leaders to not passively accept without critique that which they think they know, especially in the face of others who think differently. Leaders who hold to consistent standards of challenging their beliefs reinforce their intellectual integrity. Leaders often times confuse equal with fair so giving light to all points of view without bias lends itself to more inclusive outcome.
Critical thinking is not a new concept to the world of leadership. However, due to the pace at which information, and misinformation, flows it presents a modern-day challenge for the 21st Century Leader. Not making the time to apply the standards of thinking to the elements of reasoning only reinforces lazy thinking and widens the knowledge gap that already exists. Frederick Douglass famously said, “Educate your sons and daughters, send them to school and show them that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box, and the jury box, you have also the knowledge box.”
What is your process to expand your leadership knowledge box?