Tag Archives: collecting data

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.
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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 louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking

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 louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Collect Information, NOT Data

You can’t solve a problem without good quality information. If you recall the reports of unintended acceleration that Toyota experienced a couple years ago, you know that one of their challenges was the inability to duplicate the problem. Therefore, their best source of information was from a driver who was collecting information as they were hurtling down the road trying unsuccessfully to bring their car to a stop. Obviously, not the best frame of mind for information gathering.

The challenge that many people encounter is that they engage in “activity-centered fallacies” of gathering too much data in the hopes that the cause of the problem will emerge. Such was the case in this example where an airline collected mountains of data in an effort to solve a problem. Instead, the cause of the problem was something quite simple and they already possessed the information they needed to solve it. So where does one stop their information gathering efforts when trying to understand a problem? I’ve found that targeting your efforts to answer a few critical questions will provide a good definition of the problem that will often allow the cause of the problem to emerge from all the data. Here are the questions:

◾ What is the item (or person) with the problem? \ What similar item might also be experiencing the problem but is not?
◾ Where is the specific problem occurring? Where other problem(s)can be occurring but is not?
◾ When was the problem first observed? When might the problem have first been observed but was not?
◾ How often is the problem occurring? How often could the problem be occurring but is not?

Answers to these questions provide an excellent description of your problem. When you can answer these questions with reliable data, usually the cause of the problem will quickly become evident.
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Action Management and Associates

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Filed under Problem Solving