Recently I had some free spare time that I used to read, think, process and analyze few ideas and work on my own projects.
That was great for me because I had the chance to develop new tools and to review few concept related to work. So I had the chance to focus on the ideas behind the procedures or "how-to", including reviewing what I am doing at work, from different angles and prospective.
One of the different or better to say modified prospective, was the outcome of a mental process started with a reading.
Reading that I initially considered a waste of money, time and mind effort.
This because the topic discussed, and the way the topic was presented, is something that I had the chance to study when I was in school starting from secondary. In fact the topic of "Critical thinking" is, or I should say was, included in the school programs in our learning path associate to "Logic", "Grammar" and "Philosophy".
So when I read the books I commit the crime of assumptiveness, feeling also bore while reading, until the moment the book was covering the topic related to "Decision Making". In that chapter the writer was underlining how easy is for us to be caught in trap by our own knowledge and ideas.
I did stop to read, close the book went doing something else, and then I try to empty my mind. Only at that point I realize I was not reading at all, better my eyes were, some part of my brain was, but my mind and my attention were not, this because I had categorize the book from the initial chapters in the erroneous way.
So I take a glass of wine, had some time, good music and open the book again from the start. This time the book was presenting me a different scenario and prospective, it drives my thought through several mind paths and brings me to review some assumptions. At this point I was able to make some parallels with what is our/mine day-to-day activity in life and work. It was funny for me to discover how some personal best practices, fit perfectly in a well categorize universal model.
There was no magic, that is true, but what was good and interesting, was how "School Training" can forge your way of doing in an instinctive way, but also how the instinctive action path, can be transform and express in few, clear, universal and simple to read steps.
In particular I saw a good parallel with two critical areas of our work; the credibility of the source and the process of the decision-making.
The rest of the writing is a summary, a go through few points I have identify as relevant, and that I have see covering some critical grey areas.
I am aware this is just a small part of the picture, and as usual I am open to discussion and comments, and I will be more then happy if that will happen, actually this will mean that I have reach my target.
Credibility of the Source
In our work, as well as in many others, having a good credibility is not a plus but a must. Being credible as a company or as a single person, is not coming from free, and is a process that could takes years to build and days to get destroy.
The credibility is not only the result of "best practices" or "how to", but is also the result of a correct approach and process in what we do, how we do it and how we decide to do things (see after the decision-making section).
Whenever a customer will come to us, for an advice or help, he will ask to himself some questions, questions that we should answer or the customer will redirect his attention to someone else.
Those questions are:
- Do they (us) have the relevant expertise (experience, knowledge and if needed formal qualification)?
- Do they have the ability to observe accurately (eyesight, hearing, proximity to event, absence of distraction, appropriate instruments, skills in using instrument)?
- Does their reputation suggest that they are reliable?
- Do they have any interest or possible bias?
- Are them claiming and providing evidences of knowledge about MY context?
- Are they providing direct expertise?
- Is they level of expertise base on direct experience?
- Is what they say support by evidence and logic pattern?
- Are other sources consistent?
Answer to all the above, as said, is not something you can achieve with limited or superficial effort, it instead require an extensive and constant shift in mentality, and require some well define ideas and behaviour. My interpretation is the following:
- Always be "super partes", also avoid as much as possible to follow ephemeral trends, like the use and abuse of the "magic" term of the year, often used by others to show they capacity to be on the "trend". Unfortunately be there very often means doing without knowing. Be more conservative and analytic is the right things to do when responsible of other people.
- Be under constant training and education, perform extensive tests, and provide public evidence of our conclusion and analysis. Publish few but focus blogs.
- Avoid blog about everything, and avoid generalization, that will create more noise and confusion, yes you will be there, but as chatter not as an expert.
- When claiming about something, provide evidence and a well-documented reasoning path to support your claim.
- Always put the claim in a clear defined context, and if possible and available include the references to others reasoning and/or similar evidence and sources.
- Whenever possible try to be or use a direct source, like provide the test you have done yourself, or review and repeat the tests done by others to validate them.
- Never use other source material as yours, instead document them and contextualize them providing credit to the source. Again double check other source conclusion and provide evidence of your process.
- Whatever evidence or conclusion you will provide, it needs to have an exact match with the discussed topic, avoid generalization. Assumption can be good only if supported by good and documented reasoning.
- Do not rush, this is not a race, do not send out an answer or a comment without having the time to think on it. If possible, review it several times, and cover your reasoning also with others, this to be sure you have cover all the possible areas of uncertainly, and if you still see them, declare them.
I will be more then happy to have discussion on the above points, and if possible to extend them including more helpful suggestions.
As mention previously the other point is related on how we take our own decisions, and how we evaluate other people conclusion/reasoning/motivation.
In our work we are constantly call to take decisions, some of them are very simple ones, and we can take action with very limited thinking, but others could be much more complex and could require significant effort from our side, more time and processing to efficiently evaluate what will be the right decision.
Unfortunately very often we are affected by at least one of the following bad behaviour:
- We do not give us enough time to think.
- We see a possible fit on a though and we remain there not giving us the space to evolve.
- We do not process all the possible alternatives to/of the problem, and we do not develop more then one solution.
- We do not evolve our solution/action into a clear path of possible consequences.
- We often skip to take more information because the "time" issue (or others) and miss relevant part of the puzzle.
- We sometime forget what is relevant for us and how much this can impact on our judgment.
- We are emotionally involved and it affects the process and the decisions.
- We just do what our Boss is saying to do.
- Other recommendations influence us without applying analytical thinking.
Going through the above points, trying to clarify and to see what we can do to prevent them.
- Time, time is relevant and often we have to take some decision fast, but thinking require time, time to take information, time to analyze them, time for the reasoning. The process should not be compromise by our rush, because results will be affected and our decisions can be imprecise (if lucky) or completely wrong, not only it could happen to take a wrong decision, but when this happen because rush, we do not have a good reasoning to support and justify our mistake, in short there will not be a learning lesson, only the mistake.
- How often have we feel in love with our ideas, and not ready to divorce from them? Too often we must admit it, instead we should be able to go beyond and process all the possible options. We should keep our mind open and listen to other external suggestion but always applying analytical process.
- When I was a kid I learn that "each action include/imply a reaction". Before performing any action, before apply what we think is correct in our decision, we should carefully think "What will happen next?". We should analyze the actions, and have a good level of understanding of what will be the path of events that our actions will generate, and be ready for possible unexpected bad behaviour.
- In our job information about what is going on is everything. We should never stop to dig more, and get better understanding. Never consider the outcome of some tools/script enough for our analysis, taking their results as given without applying an analytical review. We should stop only when we are really confident that we cannot get more relevant information, and if possible we should ask to a trusted source to compare what we got, to see if we have miss anything.
- Sometime we forget that we have personal commitments, those could affect our judgment. For example, if we are fully focus on open source, it could become almost automatic for us to skip the evaluation of a non-open source solution. Or if we are Linux fundamentalist just to have to approach windows server, could drive us to have a not objective approach to the problem. Again we must keep our mind open and process the problem by analytical steps, not considering the preconceptions in our thinking, but be able to filter them out and have an objective mind process.
- How many times we have found that customer so annoying? His reiterate questions where lacking of any sense, and is not some time his behaviour to be so close to be offensive? On the other hand this other customer is really nice, he gives you a lot of credit, he has a good understanding of the effort you are doing to keep his environment in good shape. Can you honestly say that you have always gives to the two the same "time and attention"? This is a fact, it is in the human nature, to be more careful and nice comes easier with the ones that are nice with us. But this is not correct, we should always apply the same time/effort/reasoning independently to the customer behaviour. The reasoning is the point not our feeling. Understanding it and be able to mange it is a matter of be more or less professional.
- Do not follow the boss or others advice, direction blindly. We must listen carefully to anyone, we should evaluate what they have to say and objectively extract whatever is good from their suggestion or recommendation. But never accept it without our own thinking/reasoning; also it will be appropriate to share with them our process step by step, before getting to the conclusion. This will help us in learning from each other work, and will provide advantage to everyone also reducing the chance of mistakes.
Summarizing we should ask ourselves the following before, during and after having done our reasoning for a decision:
- What make this decision necessary? What is the objective?
- What I am going to recommend, and on what basis?
- What other possible alternatives exists, which one is the more realistic feasible, which one the more innovative?
- What are the possible consequence of my decision, and how likely they are going to happen?
- If this consequence will happen what will be the relevance and how we can manage them?
- Comparing different solution, which one will be the best to mitigate negative effect?
- How I can transform my decision into an action reducing to minimum the risk of bad behaviour or mistakes?
In the above sections, I was just trying to report in a concise and easy way, what is part of a more complex topic. I am aware that most of us do the right thing, just doing it right, but I am also confident that reporting black on white those simple points could help us to avoid mistakes, and if possible to define process and checklists that other people less conscientious then us, can follow to make their work behaviour more trustable.
Ennis , R.H Critical thinking Prentice Hall 1996
Fisher A The logic of real arguments Cambridge University press 1988
Fisher A Critical Thinking – an Introduction Cambridge University press 2001