Category Archives: Critical Thinking Tools

Stop and Think

By, Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

When you have a problem to solve or decision to make do you take the time to Stop and Think?

As simple as it sounds, most people don’t take the time to Stop and Think about the problem they are trying to tackle or the decision they are trying to make and end up wasting a lot of time. The excuses people make include:

“I already know what the cause of the problem is, or I have a good Idea which choice I should make.”

• “I don’t have time! If I stopped to think about every problem or decision I have I would never solve any of them.”

• “I never consciously thought about it!”

Stop and Think will help make you more efficient in your problem-solving and decision-making and you will realize many benefits. Among them are:

• It will clear your head from the cacophony of daily business noise to focus on the specific situation needing to be addressed.

• It allows your brain to question what your “gut” may be telling you is the best course of action and prevent you from making a snap decision – getting you to use facts over your opinions.

• It is a wise investment of your time. People attribute Ben Franklin with the quote, “Haste, makes waste.” Four or five minutes taken on the front end will save you hours of rework repairing a snap decision that was bad or the incorrect solution to a problem.

• It minimizes your chances of falling into the time-wasting syndrome of “analysis paralysis” because you will take the time to define a list of that data you determine is necessary to arrive at the best outcome and identify the specific sources from which that data will be gathered.

• Finally, when working with others, consider the purpose of Stop and Think similar to a huddle in football before a play. When the huddle breaks the players go to the line knowing what their individual responsibilities are to successfully execute the play called by the coach.

Stop and Think is a critical thinking process. Characteristic of all critical thinking processes there is a list of logical tasks defined by a series of questions you should ask yourself. The answers to those questions help you to formulate your game-plan for tackling your situation. Here is a look at some of the questions you must answer and tasks you must accomplish before running out onto the problem solving and decision-making field.

1. Have you created a clear description of your problem, decision or goal? John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform, said, “A problem well-defined, is a problem half solved.” What he was referring to is that when you take the time up-front to develop a concise problem or decision statement it helps you to eliminate areas you should avoid because those areas have nothing to do with your current challenge. I.T. professionals consider this as avoiding “scope creep.” That’s where your workload expands into doing work not directly associated with your primary task or wasting time to gather information which – in the end – proves to be irrelevant.

2. How does this relate to my goal, objective or mission? Answering this question will allow you and your team to tie the successful resolve directly to your overall purpose. When you do this, you will recognize the level of importance that this decision of solution has to the overall progress of your project or job.

3. What is the urgency and risk associated with this dilemma? Prioritizing tasks is an important concept in managing one’s time and project plan. By identifying the issue’s urgency and risk you will be able to balance this problem or decision among the many other things you need to accomplish.

4. How much time do you believe will be needed to solve this problem or make this decision? Everyone works well when deadlines are established and known by all. Create that deadline. If not, you will find yourself viewing procrastination as an option. It shouldn’t be!

5. Define your criteria in advance? Establishing criteria in advance allows you to pinpoint the specific information you will need to gather which prevents you from drowning in a sea of information and wasting time in that dreadful time waste known as analysis paralysis. Your criteria will also help you frame up your problem or decision and identify the source where that information can be obtained.

So, with your next problem or decision resist the urge to jump in with both feet. Stand at the edge – Stop and Think – and carefully map-out the game plan you will follow with an accurate and concise assessment. You will save a lot of time and frustration.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Why​ Ask “Why?”

By, Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

“Why?” is such an easy question to ask. I suppose that’s why it’s a child’s favorite question.

Having raised two daughters, I remember going through a period in each of their lives when it seemed the only question they knew was, “Why?” At first, it was cute because I viewed it as their thirst for knowledge. I also have a theory that it is an innate human trait for each new generation to garner as much information from the previous generation in order to seamlessly perpetuate life and our society. Children are natural problem solvers. They keep asking “Why?” until they have gleaned all the information available.

Child: “Why do I have to go to school?”

Parent: “To learn.”

Child: “Why do I need to learn?”

Parent: “So you can grow up to be smart.”

Child: “Why do I need to be smart?”

Parent: “So you can get into college.”

Child: “Why do I need to go to college?”

Parent: “So you can get a good job.”

Child: “Why do I need a good job?”

Parent (Now exhausted with this exercise): “Because Daddy says so!” OR “I don’t know, go ask your Mom!”

Child: “Oh! OK!”

Mission Accomplished! I now know as much as Dad on the subject of why I have to go to school…

This technique is actually a tool of good critical thinkers. There is a name for it. It’s called the “Five Whys.” It’s a basic process to gather information to solve a problem by asking the question “Why?” five times, or until there is no more new information available. This is most useful in identifying the root cause of most problems.

When my youngest daughter, Tess, was born, I remember my older daughter holding her new baby sister and looking up at me and saying, “Dad, we’re gonna have to teach her everything.” I laughed because my older daughter, Caitlin, was only 6 at the time. The fact that she thought she was at a point in her life where she believed she already knew everything didn’t escape me. As time went on and she reached her teenage years the point that she did know everything – and I no longer knew anything – was a frequent topic of intense debate between us! Caitlin stopped asking, “Why?” because she assumed she knew why!

I think every parent remembers that night when they went to bed, and their child considered them the smartest person in the world only to wake up the very next morning and find that during the night that same child had arrived at the conclusion that they were being raised by idiots! Ah, those cherished memories of raising children!

The fact is, most – if not all – of us stopped asking “Why?” as often as we should a long time ago. Today, this prevents us from gathering good information that helps get to the real cause of our problems. Some people refer to the process as “peeling apart the onion.” Each peel reveals a new layer. Or, you can equate asking Why? five times to those egg-shaped Russian dolls where you open one doll and it reveals another doll…. And another…. And another…. Until you get to the last doll that is the smallest of them all.

Root causes are similar to that last Russian doll – small, simple, and most times easy to handle.

In my work as a critical thinking skills executive coach, I have encountered that most people or teams focus on problems as the first doll that they see and don’t do a good job of asking questions – such as “Why?” – to open it up to reveal the next doll. This happens for a variety of reasons. The three root cause reasons are:

  • Overrated Intuition – Individuals assume they know what the root cause is and therefore, there is no need to ask any more questions. In your gut, you believe you know the root-cause and you jump immediately to generating solutions.
  • Time – In order to keep up with our fast-paced business environments and demand for high productivity individuals see questions leading to more information that eventually spins into analysis-paralysis. So again, there is the tendency to spring into identifying potential solutions. Usually, these solutions only address the symptoms of the problem and the root-cause continues to wreak havoc and be disruptive.
  • Ego – Many people view asking “Why?” as highlighting a personal knowledge deficiency. “If I ask ‘Why?’ others will discover I don’t know and that will tarnish my image as a manager or subject matter expert and I will lose the respect I need to lead.” To which I reply, “Get over it. If you knew everything you wouldn’t be sitting behind that desk. You’d be on a yacht in the Caribbean enjoying your millions because you have all the answers to every business problem in the world.”

Whatever your reason may be for not asking “Why?” more often, get over it! Get in the habit of asking “Why?” You will find the benefits – especially when working with others – will exceed just gathering more information. It will help:

  • Increase collaboration within your teams or work groups because they will come to know that you value their input and won’t be quickly dismissed.
  • Your co-workers – and family members – will feel more comfortable expressing their points of view around you.
  • It will make you humble and appear less arrogant.
  • And finally, you will learn so much more then you do now.

So, when you’re done reading this, ask yourself; “Why don’t I ask ‘Why?’ more often?” Then take steps to do so!


Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Open Mind: A Cure for Cognitive Bias

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Fake News…. Alternative Facts….

These are two terms that we hear too much of in the news these days, and they are invading our team and project meetings.

I don’t intend to get into a political debate. What I do want to highlight is the phenomenon of cognitive bias that causes us to rely only on that information which is not in conflict with what we already believe to be true and how it is detrimental to sound critical thinking. Every critical thinking process you can employ adheres to the old adage; “Garbage in, garbage out.” Thereforeif you only use information with which you believe to be true or agree, chances are you will fail in solving your problems correctly, creating solid strategic plans or making accurate decisions.

Cognitive bias occurs because of several reasons:

  • You take mental shortcuts when solving problems or making decisions to save time.
  • Too much information is available, and you gravitate to only that information with which you are most familiar or you believe to be true.
  • You are motivated by emotional or moral reasons.
  • You yearn to be “in-sync” with your associates or friends – Peer pressure or Groupthink.

There are 120 types of cognitive biases that we all experience when assessing situations, solving problems, generating solutions, and making decisions. It’s a regular smorgasbord! Without having to spend years in therapy to break through these biases there is one easy solution we can all practice which will help us steer clear of cognitive biases – having an open mind. An open mind will permit you to look at information that may be in conflict with your experiences and what you understand to be true. Ultimately, an open mind leads to more accurate decisions, plans, and solutions.

Here are ten suggestions you should consider acting on to keep that door to your mind open on a regular basis:

  • Listen More Than You Talk!

When you talk, you reinforce what you already know and believe. When you listen, you hear information that may be different from what you know and believe.

  • Think Positive, Before Negative

Our brains are prewired to protect us. When someone brings up a new idea our brains have an “Automatic Negative Thoughts” trigger. Our first reaction is to give a dozen reasons why the idea is bad or why it won’t work. Force your brain to start thinking about the positives. Think how an idea will work, or what the benefits of that idea could be.

  • Never Say Never, Never Say Always

This mindset keeps your thoughts and beliefs static. The world around us is moving fast. Things DO change. Your thinking and thoughts must also change in order to stay up-to-date. By saying NEVER and ALWAYS you do not allow your thinking to evolve.

  • Avoid Making Snap Decisions

When you make snap decisions it’s usually because of overrated intuition– your gut. That means you do not think through decisions by using established criteria and facts. The more you do this, the more comfortable you feel making decisions “on the fly” which keeps your mind closed.

  • Respect Others’ Point of View

By respecting other people’s points of view, it prevents your brain from being immediately defensive about views, opinions, or feeling that are different than yours. This invites people to express their points of views more often. You will find It increases collaboration and teamwork!

  • Look for New Opportunities

Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “There is a better way to do it, I have to find it.” Be like Edison and look for new opportunities to be more productive and more efficient. This mindset will help keep your mind’s door wide open.

  • Expand Your Network

We surround ourselves with people who tend to think like we do. They are your comfort zone and provide you a “safe place.” Expand your business network. Add new people to your circle of friends. These people will provide a diversity to your views and what you think.

  • Make Failure an Option

When thinking through new ideas, or different ways to do things, make failure an option in your mind. We naturally avoid failure at all costs so we will make judgments sometimes because of uncertainty or lack of knowledge. When you let yourself consider failure as an option you will not be quick to dismiss those ideas that appear on the surface as unsafe.

  • Get Away from Your Screens

This is the most difficult of all of the suggestions. We are addicted to our screens – computer screens, cell phone screens, TV screens, tablets, and even touch screens on our car’s dashboard. Make an effort to go on a technology diet. Each day, make a conscious decision to detach yourself from all screens for a period of time – one or two hours, initially. When you get on your screens you gravitate to information with which we agree – Facebook pages, Twitter or Instagram accounts, or texts to and from our friends. It confirms our beliefs. It makes us feel “safe.” Turn them off. Walk the dog. Go for a run or a bike ride. Better yet, sit down and talk with your family, friends, and neighbors.


Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Has Brainstorming Become the IBM Selectric® Typewriter of Creativity?

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Is it time to send brainstorming to the Smithsonian Museum to put on display with other antiquated business tools such as typewriters, overhead projectors, slide carousels and fax machines?

I believe if advertising executive Alex Osborn – who is known as the father of brainstorming – were still around even he’d be disappointed that brainstorming has become ineffective in today’s business world. Its ineffectiveness has many business consultants and academicians encouraging companies to no longer conduct brainstorming sessions because they are a waste of time. In his book, Your Creative Power (1940), Osborn outlined in detail how to brainstorm and included guidelines with an extensive flowchart. Unfortunately, over time the basics he described have been ignored or overlooked and now cause many business people to roll their eyes at the thought of participating in yet another brainstorming meeting.

Osborn’s concept – and the ultimate success he derived as an ad exec from the process – was based on the theory that if you brought a group of people together from different backgrounds and with different experiences you will end up with a wealth of great ideas. It makes sense. However, a study conducted at Yale University in 1958 (and many more studies since then) revealed that brainstorming groups generate fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone.

So, should we throw brainstorming away? Is it as outdated as typewriters in today’s business world? Or, can we revive brainstorming and make it a productive critical thinking tool once again that spurs creativity? These are serious questions that we must ask especially since many work groups still engage in brainstorming sessions to solve problems and develop new ideas but are sadly disappointed by the results. Here are some suggestions to salvage and reinvigorate Osborn’s original brainstorming technique:

Limit the size of the group – Keep your brainstorming session to seven people or fewer. Many times if the group is larger, some people will take advantage of the “free ride effect” or “social loafing” and sit back and watch other people do all the work. In short, they sit there texting or playing Candy Crush® and don’t participate.

Create a “creative environment” – If you want people to be creative you have to set the mood which makes them feel creative. You wouldn’t expect a group of chefs to prepare a gourmet meal by putting them into studio apartment-sized kitchen with limited pots and pans and cutlery. You need to put them in a facility that allows them to showcase their talents. The same holds true for a management team. Most people are running from one meeting to another and by putting them into a typical stale corporate conference room and expect them to be creative is futile. The furniture and the walls are screaming at them to “think inside the box” and maintain the company’s status quo. Plan on preparing the meeting room in advance to elicit excitement and cause a “paradigm shift” in thinking. Consider the following:

  • Rearrange the furniture – or move the furniture to the hallway and have everyone sit on the floor.
  • Bring in toys for the meeting participants to play with, such as Play-Dough®, Nerf Balls® or other Dollar Store-type trinkets.
  • Make everyone write with crayons on construction paper or large colored Sticky Notes®.
  • Bring in music which will help people relax and forget about tasks – for a little while – that they need to do when they leave your meeting.

Set ground rules – Don’t start by saying, “Here’s the problem. What ideas do you have to solve it?” Implement some of Osborn’s original guidelines which led to his success:

  • Set a goal for the number of ideas you want to identify and a time limit for the actual brainstorming. This creates a sense of urgency and a deadline.
  • Defer judgement during the actual brainstorming session. Don’t comment on any idea until the brainstorming part of the meeting is over.
  • No “Killer Statements” (i.e. “That is a stupid idea.” “You’re out of your mind,” etc.)
  • Encourage “freewheeling.” Ideas that are way “out of the box” can sometime yield way to more “grounded” solutions.
  • No idea is a bad idea – Capture EVERY idea uttered on a flip chart or white board.

Schedule time to warm-up – Professional athletes don’t just run out onto the field (or court) and just begin playing. They warm-up and stretch. Give your team a chance to warm-up by brainstorming on an unrelated, non-business problem, such as, “How many ideas can you come up with for empty tin cans?” This will get the creative engine in their mind revved up and prepare them for the primary concern about which you called the meeting.

Don’t select an idea in the same meeting you created it – You don’t have the facts available to you in the meeting to decide if an idea will actually work or not. Assign ideas to people to gather relevant information so the team can accurately assess the ideas at a later meeting. If not, you may eliminate ideas based upon assumptions, opinions and guess from alleged subject matter experts or “authority” in the room.

Allow people a few minutes to brainstorm individually before opening the group brainstorming session – Introduce the problem and give people five minutes to brainstorm on their own. Then go around the room and record the ideas they identified. This will give the group a head start and get people thinking. Then open the floor up to the typical group brainstorming session.

When you go the extra mile and adhere to Osborn’s original concept, you too, can be as successful as he was and help avoid throwing brainstorming into the category of outdated business tools.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Making Fast Decisions, Good Decisions

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

People have an aversion to making decisions. The primary reason for this is fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people will think of their decision. Fear of losing money. Fear of change. Fear of the ramifications of a decision. Individuals and work teams look at making a decision as the time when they lay their credibility on the line. Therefore, their final decision may not be bold – or game changing – decisions. We hedge our bets and seek the comfort of minimum risk. Fear also causes us to procrastinate on making decisions.

To complicate matters, many times business decisions are done in tight time frames. In our fast paced, need-it-now-climate we are forced to make decisions quickly. Quick decisions keep the ball rolling. They keep a project on schedule. They help us meet customer demands and requirements. But, can fast decisions be good decisions?

Statistics show that the more time you spend on making a decision, the more accurate it will be. It makes sense. With longer deadlines you have more time to gather and consider facts. You have more time to consider alternatives. You have more time to get input from others with whom the decision may affect. The less time you spend on making the decision may cause you to overlook or ignore facts and alternatives. You will rely more on your intuition and assumptions – or worse yet, guesses. It will also not allow you time to seek input to judge the potential effects to others or to projects. So the time to accuracy ratio can’t be thwarted. More time, more accurate. Less time, less accurate. Of course exceptions to the rule exist, but for the most part – like the laws of gravity – time and accuracy is a force of nature in the realm of critical thinking by which we must abide.

So, how do we balance this ratio in decision-making so that we don’t spend too much time and suffer the wrath of “analysis paralysis?” Or, how can we prevent spending too little time and make more “gut decisions” where facts, feelings and other potential alternatives are ignored?

First, be clear on the decision you need to make. You can do this by “defining” your decision at the outset. A decision definition should have three characteristics.

  1. Start with an “action word” which describes the outcome you would like to achieve. Action words in decision-making include; buy, hire, implement, utilize, select or choose.
  2. Have a general “description” of the alternatives you are considering. Descriptions can be as simple as; a house, a car, a project manager, a computer system, a procedure, a process or a vacation spot.
  3. Include a “modifier” which will further define the type of alternative on which you want to decide. Modifiers include; the most productive, the most qualified, the most efficient, the easiest to manage or most economical.

Defining your decision will help you or a group save time by focusing on the “real” decision at hand. For example, let’s say you define your decision today as; “To buy a new car.” You have defined your decision by saying you are going to “buy.” This immediately saves time by eliminating all discussions of the pros and cons of leasing. (In fact, buying versus leasing is a separate decision you should have already made.) In stipulating that it will be “new,” this means you have eliminated consideration – and time – of looking at used cars. This starts to narrow your possible alternatives. Finally, you have said it is a “car.” This means that you will not be looking at SUVs, minivans or motorcycles. This is yet another way to save time by focusing your search on the specific type of personal transportation that you will consider.

Second, create a list of “eliminating” or “deal breaking” criteriamust haves! This is a set of criteria that each one of the alternatives you are considering “must have” or you will not consider it. It sounds simple, but often identifying eliminating criteria gets confused in the decision-making process. So let’s further define this set of criteria as something you cannot live without. Consider this analogy; In order for you to survive on planet earth, what must you have? Fans of the reality TV show Naked and Afraid will quickly mention; food, water, shelter and of course oxygen. Successful participants on this show have demonstrated that those are the four things they must have in order to survive 21 days in some remote and dangerous part of the world. Those four items are non-negotiable. In essence, that is the definition of eliminating or deal breaking criteria – if you don’t have it you will perish and die.

Once you have identified this set of criteria you can quickly look at your alternatives and “eliminate” from consideration those that don’t possess every single one of your deal-breaking criteria. Remember, if there are only four things that you must have for something as fragile as human life to survive, chances are you are not going to have an extensive list of eliminating criteria. In the car buying example above this might only include; must not to exceed your budgeted monthly car payment of $X and must be foreign (or domestic.) This step will narrow down your list of alternatives significantly.

Third, identify a set of criteria that you are going to use to make your final decision that are called “comparable” or “judgmental” criteria – like to haves! These criteria will help define the data you will need to gather and use to compare each of your alternatives to make your best choice. Again, using the car example from above this could include criteria such as; like to have maximum stereo features, best MPG performance, lowest annual maintenance costs, maximum warranty coverage, maximum comfort and maximum trunk space. From here you can begin to differentiate your alternatives by comparing the facts relating to your predefined judgmental criteria to select your “best choice.”

When you follow these three steps of decision-making you will begin making decisions faster than you do now and with more confidence. You will have greater focus on the best alternatives for you to consider. You will avoid analysis paralysis by defining – in advance – a finite amount of data you need to gather. In addition, you will be using an objective process that is based on facts that will help you gain support and buy-in quickly. Ultimately, it will help you find that optimum level in the time to accuracy ratio to make faster decisions with increased accuracy.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Critical Thinking Starts with an Open Mind

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

I’ve spent a significant part of my career teaching and coaching executives in the area of critical thinking. A large portion of my work involves introducing formal processes – tools – such as SWOT Analysis, Deviation Analysis, Force Field Analysis, Fish Bone Diagrams and Affinity Diagrams to name a few. But just like the tools in a mechanic’s tool box, if you don’t use them properly you won’t get the job done correctly.

What I’ve discovered is that when it comes to solving problems, making decisions or creating strategic plans the processes you use require one important ingredient – an open mind. Without maintaining an open mind any formal process you use will amplify the old adage “garbage in, garbage out.”

What do I mean by that? Every critical thinking process is only as good as the facts that you put into it. And those facts, must include information and data that not only supports the perceived decision your gut tells you to make – or the cause of a problem you assume to be the root of your troubles –  it must also include data which contradicts your assumptions.

Most people, however, suffer from a common critical thinking malady called “information bias.” Information bias is seeking and selecting information or data that only supports your assumptions. Simply put, we avoid facts that go against our beliefs and experiences. To be good critical thinkers we must maintain an open mind. Being open minded means that we must not just hear, but listen, to facts that are opposite from our established beliefs.

At work, this would include listening to people in other departments who may not look at a decision or a problem through the same glasses as you do. For example, if you work in accounting you might only see a solution from a dollars and cents, or profit and loss perspective because that it what you have been educated and trained to do. It’s your job! Therefore, you could easily dismiss information and data from sales, marketing, operations or IT because those opinions may be more cavalier toward budgets and spending money to accomplish their goals. That’s their job!

At home, this might mean listening to your spouse, or your children more carefully to understand their frame of reference even though your gut may be screaming at you that what they are saying is wrong. Or, in this election year it may mean mean not relying on that cable news station that only reinforces your political views and watch another cable news show that you believe presents information and points-of-views that only represents “the other side.”

The root cause of “information bias” tends to come from our egos. Face it, nobody likes to think our beliefs and opinions are wrong. In these instances, human nature dictates that we take the “fight” response when what we believe to be true – or right – is challenged.

When I coach people on critical thinking I use the analogy that our minds are like attics, garages or basements – places we tend to store stuff of which we can’t or don’t want to let go. But just like our attic, garage or basement every now and then we need to purge our mind of information, experiences and beliefs that no longer fit; don’t work; is obsolete or outdated in order to make room for new information, new experiences and new beliefs.

So how do we become more open minded and begin the process of purging our brains of outdated or obsolete information and beliefs to make room for this new information? Here are some suggestions on ways to begin the process:

  1. Read more books or watch documentaries on subjects that you know nothing about. When we are introduced to subjects of which we know nothing about our brain tends to draw correlations to that new information with that which we already know. It helps us grasp a better understanding. It’s like standing in front of a mirror, holding up a piece of clothing, and asking yourself; “Does this fit or how do I look in it today?”
  2. Expand the nucleus of people with whom you associate. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Introduce yourself to new people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Our natural temptation to “be part of the group” will cause us take in new information and listen to different perspectives in a “safe environment.”
  3. Enroll in class that challenges your natural talents and curiosity. For example, take a pottery or painting class – something you have never done. Performing the techniques to accomplish the art form will force you to think and act differently. In addition, there is a strong possibility you will interact with people that don’t share your knowledge and beliefs. This again will provide you with a “safe environment” to challenge your way of thinking. It may also spark an idea which might help you solve a pressing problem at work or at home.
  4. Focus on how you accept feedback, especially that which is intended to be constructive. Do you adapt the natural “fight” response? This means that you always want to justify why you did what you did regardless of other people’s suggestions on doing something a different way. If you do, then this might indicate a low level of mental willingness to accept new information or different points-of-view.

Information, technology and circumstances are constantly changing. Your ability – and willingness – to regularly consider new data and changing perspectives will help you become a better critical thinker.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Is Conformity Keeping You from Success?

Social conformity is a powerful and hidden motivation that influences our decisions and strategic planning in ways we don’t even realize or understand. It’s called “that’s the way we have always done it.” This is a way of thinking that hinders innovation and success. Let me demonstrate the power of conformity with this personal experience…

Recently I joined a few friends at an NBA game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food and drinks were free! Who could say, “No?”

Initially we were all acting very proper because of the luxury trappings that surrounded us. It was a close game and soon we were all behaving like the less fortunate people that were sitting in the cheap seats.  We were all cheering, standing, shouting, and high-fiving each other. Decorum quickly died. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were screaming and behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor above center court displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera is pointed at a couple they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction while the teams strategized during a timeout, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date.” As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway and the crowd erupted. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making and strategic planning. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning our decisions and planning.

If your organization needs to innovate, but is stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” mentality consider these tips for re-framing your decisions and plans.

  1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money already invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.
  2. Behave like the enemy: The military uses a process that is called “Red Teaming.” It’s where they gather a group of subject matter experts and review plans and decisions through the eyes of the enemy. They look for holes or weaknesses in your thinking. Businesses are beginning to adopt this process to expose questions such as; How might your competitor sell against you? How can they overcome your new product launch? How can they position their services to steal business with a mutual client? What can they do that might completely disrupt the way you do business?
  3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

Moving forward, avoid falling into the “that’s the way we have always done it” way of thinking. Challenge yourself, your teams and your associates on a regular basis to get out of this destructive way of thinking. Take action to overcome the comforts of what is accepted as “normal.”

Reprinted from Action Management Associates

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Group Effectiveness, Red Teaming, Strategic Thinking