The key to improve your decision-making skills lies in your level of expertise and experience, but not for the reason you’re probably thinking of. Watch as Brett Dillon discusses how to Improve Your Decision Making further.

Critical Thinking

In a series of experiments conducted at the University of Virginia, researchers discovered most people would rather do anything but sit and think—with many subjects preferring electric shocks instead of thinking. If thinking is such a dreaded exercise, what’s the process to teach someone critical thinking?

I teach adults how to do jobs— also entrepreneurs, managers, and business leaders. The biggest challenge I have? How to deal with the problem produced by the industrialized educational system: it teaches kids what to think, not how to think, so the kids can pass standardized tests.

But this isn’t how the real world works. The real world is volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous (VUCA) and there are no standardized answers to the challenges encountered. That’s where I come in…

We’ve developed a process that teaches adults critical thinking skills while teaching them how to do a job.

We ask them questions related to the job, but sequenced in a way that leads them through a critical thinking process.

Here’s our process:

  1. What is the job? We ask them to “help” us break down the job into the component parts.
  2. What do you know about the job? We ask them questions about the different parts of the job.
  3. How do these parts work together? These questions drive connections between the part tasks so they can see how each job task impacts the others, and the job as a whole.
  4. What can go wrong? This gets them to think about problems that can appear while performing the job—and they have to think about solutions.
  5. How can you improve how the job is done? This drives them to think about ways to improve their workflow, or even innovate the job.

This process of instruction helps us teach people critical thinking skills while teaching them how to do a job.

Whenever I think of change, I think of this Pink Floyd song- particularly the lines “And did they get you to trade / Your heroes for ghosts? / Hot ashes for trees? / Hot air for a cool breeze? / Cold comfort for change? / And did you exchange / A walk on part in the war / For a lead role in a cage?”

Change is always uncomfortable. The very thought of doing something different is anesthetizing to most of us, causing us to stumble forward in hopes that the road we’re on will take us somewhere that’s halfway decent. All those dreams we had as children were destroyed long ago by the industrialized educational programs in this country that trained the “Why?” out of us, and with the “Why?” went the “Why not?” and all sense that we could do something different, that our dreams were worth holding on to.

The momentum required to overcome this inertia is ginormous! We aren’t inspired to change by money (it’s only temporary), by accolades (it’s even more temporary), or by our own economic survival. What I think, and I may be wrong, is that we are inspired to change when something deep down inside us sparks those childhood dreams. You know, the ones where you were the hero that saved everyone, where you were brave, strong, held to your values like a rock in spite of the odds against you, and came out on top because the good guys always win in the end.

That tiny, glowing ember of a burnt dream bursts into a flame when you find your destiny, that task you were designed for, that purpose for your life that you are compelled to pursue with passion. This is what fuels the momentum to carry us passed the point of no return, to stand on our hind legs like people and shout at the universe “I will succeed!”

Even though we know the odds are against us, we know that we will make it. We know that nothing will stop us- not because we are so great at what we do, but because we simply won’t give up. And it’s not that we don’t recognize the dangerous world we walk in- we see those dangers, but we are no longer cowed by fear into inaction.

One question I ask my business consulting clients is “If it were absolutely impossible for you to fail, what would you be doing with your life?”

All too often, the answer I get is something completely unrelated to what they are doing now. Why? Because they are afraid to step out and risk everything in pursuit of their dreams.

I’m convinced that 98% of success is just showing up and not quitting. The other 2% is learned behavior.

I remember one Building America research project I worked on. The local HVAC contractor was asked to install a high performance duct system designed by a colleague of mine from Florida, Dennis Stroer. About 4 months after the job was completed, I ran into Hector at another client’s office.

“Hector, how did that duct system work out? Was it less expensive to install?” “Yes.”, he replied.

“Was it faster to install?” “Yes.”, he replied.

“We know it performs better because we’ve tested it- so it’s less expensive, faster, and performs better?” “Yes.” he replied.

“So you’re going to put it in that way in all your homes from now on?” “No.” he replied, “It’s different, so we didn’t like it.”

Fear of change is costing that HVAC company thousands of dollars every year, the builders they work for thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses, and the homeowners who have to live with crappy HVAC systems thousands of dollars over their tenure in the home. All because they are afraid to change.

What is Possible?

I have an imagination and I’m not afraid to use it. I had an employee give me a button to wear with that on it- and I wore it every day at that workplace.

When I was much younger, relatives called me “Spock” because I would comment on human behavior with “That’s just not logical!” I was taught from an early age to use declarative reasoning based on deductive and inductive logic to figure out what was likely true or false.

Deductive logic builds boxes or frameworks that allow us to separate or differentiate bits of knowledge- we can identify mammals by certain characteristics, then we can fit animals into the mammal box depending on whether they fit those characteristics.

Inductive logic creates general rules based on observation and experience, and draws conclusions leading us to what we believe is true or not. Pressing my foot on the vertical pedal on the floor of the Driver’s position of the car makes my car engine work more- and if I do that while the gearbox is in Drive mode, the car goes faster, but if I do that in park mode, the car doesn’t move at all. I can induce that there is a mechanism involved that disconnects the engine from the wheels when in park, and locks the wheels in position. In neutral, the mechanism disconnects the engine from the wheels, but the wheels are not locked in place.

Using both types of logic is necessary for us to discover what is likely true or not- but they don’t help us figure out what is possible! Only modal reasoning with the addition of abductive logic can help us.

Abductive logic looks for the best explanation that fits the data that doesn’t fit our current model. This creates a new, better model for us to work with. Abductive logic looks for what is possible and frees us from the chains of what we think is the only way. We create experiments to disprove what is possible, with a consequence of rich results that suddenly provide us with a bunch of never-before considered options.

To find what is possible, look for stuff that doesn’t fit into our differentiated boxes- these insights will help us form a new and better model. Then, experiment to disprove. An amazing thing will happen- you’ll learn that the universe doesn’t fall apart when you try something different.

Think of all the complex tasks you do everyday. Driving cars, playing musical instruments, the very act of handwriting- these are very complex activities.

Take teeth brushing, for instance. Somehow you have to maneuver your meat-covered skeleton made from stardust into a space where you have access to water, a teeth brush, and teeth paste to scrub your teeth. You have to manipulate the cap off the tube of teeth paste and squeeze the right amount out – not too much nor too little- onto the bristles of your teeth brush. If you are a civilized person, you’ll put the cap back on and then insert the teeth paste-covered bristles into your open mouth between your lips and cheeks and your teeth, scrubbing vigorously up and down. Then the tops of your teeth and finally the inside surfaces of your teeth. After a rinse if mouth and brush, you’re done! But how many steps did it take you?

If you’re like most people, you don’t even think about it. One person I know even cleans his ears while engaged in teeth brushing! It has become automatic behavior, a habit, that doesn’t require conscious thought anymore- but once, it did.

Reflecting on your thinking is no more complex that brushing your teeth, yet it seems so difficult for most people. Why?

To begin with, we have our curiosity trained out of us by the educational institutions we were processed through as children. Then, we are taught at institutions of higher learning to memorize everything we can about specific subjects so we can regurgitate information on demand. Then we go to work for businesses that prescribe what we do during the time they rent from us, often in infuriating detail. At no time are we taught how to think and how to reflect on our thinking- those skills are now deemed unnecessary as the manager or leader does that as part of their job.

The result? At least three generations, probably more, of people who cannot think for themselves, figure things out, who think that everything on the internet is true (“Bon jour!”). If you were bothered by my use of the phrase “teeth brush” instead of the more conventional “toothbrush”, you might be part of that group to some degree.

To gain experience and confidence in your capability to deal with complexity, you will need self-discipline to turn the following exercise into a habit.

Start with an outcome or result of a decision you’ve made. Write it down. Next, think of all the actions you and others involved in that outcome took. Write them down. Now reflect on the thinking that led you to choose that action over other options. Write your description of the thought process down.

What you’ll likely find is that we rarely make decisions that only involve us, and we give very little thought to the actions we take. We are simply drifting through life on automatic mode, reacting to external forces based on our values and experiences (which are shaped by those very forces) in a self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity.

But you are capable of far greater things than that! You can take control of your life and shape it into a life of meaning and purpose- if you’ll stop to reflect on the fact that your view of the world is imperfect, that differing views hold the potential for insight, that a more complete view exists, that you are capable of finding more complete views by practicing critical thinking, and that you are capable of dealing with complexity by thinking backwards from outcome to action to thought.

Trainer

A good trainer is a rare find because many Train the Trainer programs often focus on teaching the mechanics of how to do a certain task, or follow a prescriptive formula for a specific program. That’s not what Train the Trainer programs should be- instead, they should focus on teaching trainers the best ways to TEACH!

Who makes a good trainer candidate? My friend Darrel Tenter and I have been discussing this for a couple of years now, and I’m not sure we will come to a definitive agreement. I am in the “experience doing the job first” camp, and I think he’s in the “be able to teach well” camp.

I believe a good trainer needs at least 8 years of experience doing the work they will be teaching others- mostly because they need to have that kind of experience to support their position, to hold their own convictions when dealing with fuzzy thinking students, and to provide- in the minds of the students- the authority to teach. This is a teaching principle that is at least 2,000 years old. In the Bible, it is recorded that people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching “because, unlike the scribes, he was teaching them as one having authority.” The Greek word translated “authority” refers to his ability and strength of teaching- something that is best gained by experience.

The second requirement of a good trainer candidate is their maturity level. It is extremely difficult for immature people to be taken seriously as any kind of authority figure. They lack the chops that earn the respect of the students and learning transfer will suffer.

The third quality I want to see in a good trainer candidate is the ability to teach. But isn’t that why they attend Train the Trainer courses? Perhaps ability isn’t the right word- perhaps it is more a combination of empathy, humility, compassion, communication skills, and attitude. If the trainer candidate has those qualities, they will do well in a proper Train the Trainer course where they will learn the skills required to become a good trainer.

Once a trainer candidate enters my Train the Trainer workshop, I have a singular goal: help them transform into a good trainer, the best instructor they can be.

A good trainer is someone who knows how to do a job, but isn’t paid for that- they are paid for imparting that knowledge and wisdom into others, creating a productive worker. In order to do that, they really need to know the kind of work they are training people to do. A good trainer also works from a planned course of instruction that teaches all the operations of the trade or craft in a way that allows the student to get it as quickly and easily as possible. This is the cornerstone of effective instruction.

Finally, a good trainer knows and understands the principles and methods of the training profession and how to apply them effectively. But they don’t just know the mechanics of teaching- they understand the psychological theory and evidence that underpins the instructional methods they practice.

My goal is to train the trainers who will become practitioners, not theorists, who will generate enthusiastic, productive people doing meaningful work.