Critical thinking: Our QA perspective
Critical thinking sounds complicated. We hear our clients want it more and more. We think we know what it is – but do we?
I decided I needed to do some critical thinking about critical thinking. How do you learn to think critically? What difference does the context of the Digital Revolution (or the 4th Industrial Revolution) make to what it means to become a critical thinker? I needed to make sure we are ahead of the game in how we help people become critical thinkers in ways that help them act. Here is where I travelled to.
We are not the only ones to think that critical thinking is a skill leaders need to have in the digital age. Critical thinking has overtaken pure problem-solving and decision-making. Decisions and problems are more complex combined with fast-moving, demanding customers. Our tech and digital focus in QA allows us to be on top of what we need to think critically about.
"Critical thinking is what makes us different from technology and enables us to use it astutely."
Our QA point of view is that critical thinking is needed because how people use technology is not just a function of what the tech does (its functionality) but how we choose to embrace it. Critical thinking is what makes us different from technology and enables us to use it astutely. Insight from data, however sophisticated, needs to be interpreted. We need to decide how to use data. Where the interpretation needs to sit. What sort of interpretation needs to happen.
As technology is part of our society, critical thinking is needed by leaders to ensure conscious inclusion. We need to stop and consider critically who we are including and therefore what sort of representation we have in the judgements we make and the decisions we take.
Critical thinking is important for leaders of change and innovation. Your version of an argument well-evidenced might not be someone else’s decent argument. What perspectives might they bring? How can that perspective be linked to motivation to work and add value with purpose?
Who gains from learning to be a better critical thinker?
To gain from critical thinking learning, you will tend to manage teams to produce value or have a key role yourself in creating cross-functional value. You might be frustrated with a lack of structure to think critically within. You will want to understand how to challenge well. You will be engaged in digital technology or want to become far more so. You will want to make the most of the time invested in learning.
Digital Information impacts the way we think and learn. We are seeing clients ask for time management courses and courses in wellbeing, resilience and stress. Is the speed at which we can access so much information stopping us from stopping to think more critically about what we are taking in? There is evidence that reading a hard copy and writing with a pencil on paper slows us down and makes us engage more in useful ways with the knowledge coming our way. In QA, we have to make knowledge and learning actionable – so how do we encourage critical engagement with the knowledge in our courses?
In Managing, Leading and Personal Effectiveness, we are working more with clients in learning bursts; shorter virtual sessions with trainers that can hold the attention of people during their busy working day. A question arises – do these have an impact though? We often use a Course on a Page (CoP) as a way of helping structure the knowledge. Each CoP includes the core concepts covered in the course and space to make sense of those. The Managing and Leading practice has more concepts than we can teach and learners can absorb, so we aid thinking by selecting the most relevant of these within the CoP. We also make sure the CoP has space for learners to doodle, take notes and reflect to make that content come alive in their terms, in their role, whether on an iPad or printing the CoP out.
"There is evidence that reading a hard copy and writing with a pencil on paper slows us down and makes us engage more in useful ways with the knowledge coming our way."
I do this myself. However busy I am, I try to have big pieces of paper to hand on which I can design learning solutions, rather than going straight to PowerPoint. I have a Cornell notepad (well, several) to ensure that as I listen in a meeting or work out a plan, I use a non-digital pen and paper. I know agile leaders who use Trello boards but also still use Post-It notes to manage workflow on their wall. Internally we use Trello boards to make work on backlogs transparent and empowering. When collaborating with others in QA, we often use the creativity of Miro or Mural with its moveable sticky notes and premade templates. We need to make learning, internal to QA or with clients, easy, sticky and relevant in ways that avoid surface learning and inaction through weak accountability. We need to dig deeper to translate learning into action that is reflected upon. Our learning bursts can be associated with other activities within a learning programme that ensure performance impact happens in ways that empower and create accountability.
Critical thinking in the Digital Revolution surely needs to mean more than personal productivity and creativity, though? Well, we know digital transformation is hard and benefits from employee engagement. In QA, we have a lot going on. Our new cloud-based agile objective-setting system, Compass, promotes far more regular engagement and aligns performance to the Employee Value Proposition, which means I can instantly feed back on colleagues and they can feedback on me. I hated the Annual Performance Appraisal – anyone like them? I like thanking people, and our new system allows us to do just that in real time. We have PowerBI and a new finance system and much more. Is this it? Is this what requires us to use our critical thinking skills – getting our heads around the functionality of new systems?
"Teamwork makes those critical human judgements and decisions that use digital technology happen, and those are what extract value from digital technology for customers too."
We, here at QA, have our point of view. We say no and yes. Staying focused in a digital, high-speed, uncertain, even VUCA, world is the first step. Such systems are part of that challenge. Then you have to stop and think – how do I think? How do I engaging critically with the views and perspectives of others around a problem or opportunity to create value? How do I lead so that teamwork adds value? Teamwork makes those critical human judgements and decisions that use digital technology happen, and those are what extract value from digital technology for customers too.
Our QA point of view is that critical thinking is vital to what you do beyond personal effectiveness. It takes it to a place where you can lead and buy into greater customer engagement, whatever your role. Within modules such as Staying Focused in a VUCA World, Help Me I’m Thinking and Leading Through Critical Thinking and Accountability, we use scenarios to draw out and hone in on critical thinking that works because it adds value, often through digital initiatives.
So maybe we are okay in how we teach critical thinking here at QA. We use the latest thinking on how to scaffold critical thinking skills and move to a mindset of critical thinking that becomes a habit. We use facilitation to encourage the multiple perspectives needed for the complex problems and opportunities of the Digital Revolution. That said, we will keep looking for how to improve what we do.
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