With Richard C. Wells (Rick), BPI’s VP of R&D
What is critical thinking and how can it help us resolve difficult issues, make better decisions, and solve problems? Learn what a critical thinking expert has to say about all this in part one of a wide-ranging interview of Rick Wells. Rick has been teaching critical thinking at Fortune 500 companies in every industry for 35 years. He is the author of several books including, The Right Choice-A Guide to Executive Decision Making; Critical Thinking for Leaders and Making A Difference. In Part I of our interview, Wells dispels some of the myths about what it means to be a critical thinker.
BPI is a training company that specializes in critical thinking. What do you do? Do you teach people how to be critics?
Well, no. I suppose critics do apply their judgment to their chosen specialty area. But, a critic is not necessarily an accomplished critical thinker. An accomplished critical thinker is able to assess the logical demands of any situation and can meet these demands appropriately.
I’ve read that leaders from all levels of society are saying people need to be taught critical thinking. This includes students, employees, managers, and voters.
A “thinking skills” explosion has not accompanied the “information” explosion. Many people are overwhelmed with the variety and depth of information available. They need to be taught thinking strategies. People need to be able to determine what information they really need and in what order. The starting point for this is a big picture perspective on purpose. This helps clarify what information is needed, what to focus on first, and what information can safely be put aside for later or ignored altogether.
What is your definition of critical thinking?
We define critical thinking simply as thinking that involves the application of judgment and reason. We have developed and refined a simple logical framework to teach people a purpose-driven evaluation process. It’s all about the systematic application of one’s own judgment in the service of some worthwhile purpose.
We tend to think of critical thinking as a cold or objective way of looking at things, but this is inaccurate. The reality is that each of us brings our own subjective experience of the world into any analysis and this is reflected in our judgments. What we want is for people to make the best possible use of their judgments. We provide a purpose driven logical structure, one that makes those judgments visible.
Is critical thinking taught at universities?
Yes, you can find a course entitled “critical thinking” at many colleges and universities. The course will usually be an elective and include such topics as deduction, inference, interpretation, recognition of assumptions and evaluation of argument. Typically what students learn are ways to label certain types of poor thinking. They learn how to identify and categorize logical fallacies and how these relate to philosophical analysis. Students are not likely to become better critical thinkers after this type of course because the emphasis is not on doing critical thinking. It is on studying the field of critical thinking, with some study of other people’s critical thinking. So, the transfer to one’s own life and work is just not made.
So, how do you make critical thinking more applicable to everyday life?
What people need is help making sense of the world as they see it. So when teaching critical thinking, the methods should apply to thinking about real life. In real life we are not given a set of facts in a nice neat package. We find facts buried with less objective information including opinions, generalizations and other people’s conclusions. Therefore, what is taught should address this.
A further real life complication is that some of the facts we have are irrelevant, and many facts we’d like to have are missing or unavailable. And finally, rarely does life provide us with the luxury of facing just one issue at a time. We need to learn how to separate issues and then decide which to address first. In order to be truly useful, any new method for thinking critically must demonstrate how to work against these real-life constraints.
Does being more rational mean being more complex?
Well, accomplished critical thinkers can handle more complexity than others can because they know what to focus on and what to ignore. Einstein once said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Confusion and complexity are usually the result of a failure to meet the true needs of a situation. So, an accurate read on what is needed will keep things simple, or at least as simple as possible.
One reason people blunder is they end up in situations trying to use the wrong tool for the job. Either they are unclear about their purpose and select the wrong tool or a better tool is unknown to them. But, lacking the right tools, people often do a hatchet job using what they have. This makes things more complicated than they need to be.
Do you have an example of this?
The use of brainstorming is a good example. Many people have been taught to develop a list of problems using the brainstorming technique.
But brainstorming is a creativity tool and not designed to gather specific, factual information. Groups that start off brainstorming problems end up with a big list of opinions, solutions, statements of blame, generalizations, and conclusions, but not necessarily a list of specific problems. The brainstorming tool is simple. However, when it is used inappropriately, the result is a mess. Clarifying your purpose and understanding what is needed helps you to select the right tool for the job. For listing problems you want factual observations of reality and there are better tools than brainstorming to help you do that.
Using the right tool for the job just sounds like common sense. Isn’t it common sense?
When someone is thinking well it should look and feel like just plain common sense. But, a purely spontaneous thinker can be overwhelmed with complexity, with too much information, with a lack of focus, with being diverted on tangents, and with the sheer randomness of their own thinking process. The trick is to allow your thinking to do what it does naturally and to recognize not only which ideas are valuable to your purpose but also how best to use them. Training in this skill can provide the conscious awareness of a thinking framework to navigate and guide thinking more effectively.
(To be continued … Go to Part II)
In Part II, Rick discusses critical thinking and its contribution to creative thinking, innovation and performance management.
Critical Thinking For Leaders (two days)
Critical Thinking (two days)
Systematic Problem Solving (one day)
Systematic Decision Making (one day)
Systematic Project Management (one day)
Critical Thinking Interview-Part I
Business Processes Inc. * R & D * P.O. Box 1456 * La Jolla, CA 92038
What could you possibly add to your technical knowledge and years of experience to dramatically improve your troubleshooting performance?
Mastery of a thinking technology distilled from a select group of the world’s best problem solvers, validated with over 35 years of on-the-job use.
Use a systematic process. The explosion of information, the pace of change and accompanying short shelf-life of relevant experience, makes having a meta-strategy a critical career asset. Know what questions to ask and why. Make the best possible use of your knowledge, experience and judgment in a logical and focused manner. Do it naturally and with stunning results! Increase the value you bring to your organization ten-fold with an improved ability to guide your thinking and the thinking of others.
We help troubleshooters get to the core of any problem, big or small, technical or service-based, faster and more directly than ever. Convert chaos to clarity!
Reveal the root. Knowing how a problem came into existence is essential to figuring out what to do about it and finding the best way to fix it, permanently.
STEP  – Prerequisite Recommendation
Ideally you will attend a live BPI Critical Thinking or Systematic Problem Solving workshop. Just contact your organization’s Training Administrator to find out about this option. But, if a workshop is not available you may begin online as follows:
STEP  – You or your Training Administrator may contact us to setup your registration for the online course. Use the Contact form on this website. The online course is entitled Systematic Problem Solving and you will gain an in-depth understanding of Problem Inventory, Problem Solving, and Tracking Root Cause processes. The WBT program includes concept lessons, case study demonstrations, Zoom meeting demonstrations, opportunities to self-test your understanding, feedback and exam questions for each module.
Contact us with any questions. You can go online and complete the Systematic Problem Solving web-based course. This will require 4-5 hours of self-paced learning. You will gain an in-depth grounding in all the Troubleshooting concepts (Problem Inventory, Problem Solving, and Tracking Root Cause). The WBT program teaches 21 concepts, including advanced concepts not taught in our workshops, with immediate tests for understanding, feedback, all in preparation for each process’s Final Exam.
 Analyze A Series of Three Of Your Current Problems with the support and feedback of a BPI expert coach.
The certification process includes the application of Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis to three of your job-related problems. You will receive feedback and one-on-one expert coaching all the way through exchanging the BPI Problem Solving electronic workbook. The workbook documents your analysis and makes sharing the analysis a simple matter – just send the file in an email attachment, or print it out. Your coach will find and correct any misunderstandings you might have and teach powerful strategies for how best to solve the toughest problems, avoiding dead ends and false trails, taking the direct path to the true cause of your problem.
In the Troubleshooter-I Certificate program you will learn to:
* Quickly and objectively define any problem.
* Learn when to group or to separate individual problems and set priorities.
* Specify the boundaries of any problem.
* Develop high-quality potential causes
* Quickly determine the most likely cause using the available facts.
* Logically test for the true cause and stop serial trial error changes. Systematically reveal the root cause.
* To check and verify the logical flow of your root cause analysis.
Business Processes Inc. * Research & Development * P.O. Box 1456 * La Jolla, CA 92038 * 858-459-7600