If intentional collaboration is the productive exchange of big ideas, then philosophy is an important foundation. From Socrates to Aristotle to Kant to Kuhn to Senge (and a host of others in between) there is a rich heritage of thought on the pursuit of understanding, with a host of cognitive models to help us work on the hardest problems.
For those willing to do the work – and it truly is work, no silver bullets to be found here – improving how we search for knowledge is central to all manners of collaborative solutions, framed alternatively as innovation (in the commercial context), or emergent outcomes (in the context of complexity). That puts intentional collaboration on the critical path to solving virtually all critical social, commercial and public sector issues.
The stakes are high.
Ultimately it comes down to a decision: are we willing to embrace and foster the hard work of critical thinking?
I’m neither philosopher, nor academic. But if Socrates, arguably the father of critical thought, were to give a guest lecture at a local college, I’d be on the front row with my laptop, taking notes.
At some level, I think I’ve always had a hunger to understand.
But even with a healthy bias for learning, it’s easy to lapse into a mode of passive acceptance. We’re deluged with so much information, it seems increasingly natural to tune much of it out. But where do we draw the line? Are we losing our intellectual edge? What legacy are we leaving for future generations?
Critical thinking may be our last line of defense. We need to unpack it and understand it, and frankly, we need to get better at it.
Let me offer a working definition:
“Critical thinking is the skill set we use to challenge our initial, surface observations of a topic or insight, enabling a rigorous understanding of root causes, relationships and meaning.”
The rigor that goes into critical thinking is among the main reasons we struggle with it so. It’s hard work. And it takes more time. Deep learning requires more than just surface observation or memorization of fact, which has implications in many important areas, ranging from business to education.
Let’s recap some subject domains – past and present – where critical thinking plays a key role. This list will serve as a guide for subsequent posts, as I did in my 2010 culture series. I’ll update this outline and add links as we go in the months ahead.
- Philosophy (posted 5/21). How we think. Our rational minds use principals of logic every day to solve problems, but we pay little heed to the dynamics of reason, and the role our mental filters play. Tracing the heritage through Socrates, Aristotle, .. (ok, it’s a long list).
- Language (posted 8/16). How we communicate. Language is the essential foundation for framing our inquiries and our proposed solutions. Our words matter greatly, but we give them so little thought. Foundations in Wittgenstein.
- Metaphor (posted 8/31). How we find common ground. The power of metaphor in story and discourse has been central to our social learning process since we began to converse with our parents. Are we trained in the art of story telling? Is the intentional use of metaphor a lost art? A look at Lakoff on an important topic.
- Knowledge Frameworks (10/31). How we attack ‘the problem of knowledge’. This post will trace two evolutionary threads over the last 2500 years. Both are rooted in antiquity, but their most recognizable branches are empirical science and rationalist philosophy. The two roads diverged some time ago. Can we contemplate the paths coming back together?
- 21st Century Kant: Complexity (1/22). How we adapt. We’ve learned some behaviors of complex systems, but how can critical thinkers make sense of what seem to be increasingly unsolvable problems? Can a new semantic analysis of Kan’t Categorical Framework provide any insight?
- Public Education. How we learn. This is doubtless the most fertile ground for this discussion in the modern day. Few argue the importance of teaching critical thinking, but to what degree are teachers able to foster it? What level of command should high school graduates possess?
- Business. How we innovate. There’s a raft of challenges in the commercial space, where inertia from our past successes has led to an endemic lack of critical thinking. What skills must executives employ to get ahead of the curve? (I’ve expanded on approaches for workplace at Talent Culture, and found a useful innovation frame started by Pat Lefler at Blogging Innovation).
- Thought Leadership. How we inspire. From academia to corporate enterprise to the political realm, our leaders want us to follow them. But do their messages makes sense to us at a cognitive level, or are we simply responding to emotional appeals?
- Collaboration. How we engage. We need to unlock new ways to interact in teams, bringing the potential of networked critical thinkers to bear on difficult problems. How do we get there? (see also Design Thinking)
No wonder there’s energy on critical thinking from all sides. There’s enough research in this framing for the balance of 2011. At this point, we will definitely spill over into 2012.
As we explore the depths and the many dimensions of this topic, we’ll need care to navigate the chasm between keeping it simple (aka accessible) versus the demands of academic rigor. Both are important.
Challenge me to strike the right balance.
As always, your comments and tweets will help expand and enrich the conversation. I look forward to them.