Critical Thinking

As I continue my dive into the world of academia, I’ve discovered a number of “buzzwords.” One of those buzzwords (buzz phrases?) is “critical thinking.”  I’m sure I heard “critical thinking” at least three times yesterday. From one speaker.

As a director of an office that has employees, and as someone who has taught university-level courses, one of the things that I try to instill is the freedom for students and workers to think critically. I’d prefer that students and workers not be passive recipients of information, but actually do something with that information, typically, by asking questions: What are the implications of this decision? What can go wrong? What can go right? How can this decision affect others?

The Harvard Business Review recently published a study by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats where they interviewed managers about their needs. According to Gino and Staats, managers say that they “need employees who can think, not just follow orders.”

Why do they need these types of workers, people who can do something with information besides simply what the manager tells them to do?

Because the world is “changing to quickly to predict customers’ demands” and the only way to thrive (or even survive) is to “find workers who can co-create value with customers and constantly improve operations”.

Gino and Staats go on to suggest ways to change organizations so that workers bring their hands and heads to work. They conclude that businesses need to design jobs to give workers ownership of how they perform tasks, ownership of their identity, and ownership of their time.

In a sense, we need our workers to have the characteristics of what the law calls independent contractors. Independent contractors use their own tools and equipment and determine how the project will be completed. The employer gets to determine what will be done. The analysis can be more nuanced, but you get the point.

We do this a lot at our office. We ask “what do we want the outcome of this project to be” and then let our student assistants determine how to get there. The level of creativity and ownership is compelling, even with our small office. Of course their are boundaries that need to be observed, whether imposed by time, law, safety, or regulation, but operating within the space allowed can be a lot of fun. Gino and Staats suggest that pushing ownership to the worker’s level improves productivity and worker happiness.

Their conclusion: operations of the future need to be adaptable and dynamic.

What are your thoughts? Is critical thinking an important characteristic? If so, how do you teach it? How do you create a community of critical thinkers?

Eight Dimensions of Cultural Differences

20140428_1Another great post from Harvard Business Review. This one is by David Champion on the difficulty of keeping all of the differences between cultures in mind. Champion writes:

Erin Meyer, an American (from Minnesota) in Paris who coaches executives in managing cross-cultural career moves and teaches at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, has a theory about these malentendus. The problem, she argues, is that most people tend to emphasize just one or two, at most three, dimensions of cultural difference when it comes to parsing and predicting foreigners’ behavior.

But cultures differ along many more than three dimensions, so the more dimensions you consider, the less likely you are to trip up on a cultural paradox — you’ll be able to tell that incoming French manager to tone down critiques of his American subordinates before he upsets them.

The trouble, of course, is that it’s cognitively difficult for us to keep more than three dimensions of comparison in our head at once. What’s more, we tend to lose sight of the fact that relative, not absolute differences, are what matters.

Meyer created an eight dimension tool for us to better understand cultural differences–eight dimensions!

What are your thoughts? How can Meyer’s identification of eight dimensions of cultural difference help in negotiations and resolving conflict?

How Sensemaking Helps You Understand What Your Customers Want

This video from Harvard Business Review is good for those in the mediation/conflict resolution business. Why do we respond the way we do–the “hidden scaffolding”–that plays out. This speaks to the need to understand the interests that underpin the positions taken by someone. Why does someone want peace? Why does someone want the conflict resolved? Why does someone choose mediation instead of litigation?