On Fri, 22 Sep 1995, Forbes, Ted wrote:
> Mariann Jelinek suggests:
> >>>Ivan's right; we can find lots of "good reasons" why people cease to
> question. I'd add that such inquiry is hard work; that it requires
> acknowledging that we don't know it all (tough!); and truly accepting our
> own ignorance is a profoundly trusting thing to do, trusting that we'll
> figure it out, in a world full of inducements to paranoia (like virtually
> every newspaper's conspiracy theory of whatevr). For myself, as a
> subversive of all that certainty by profession (university professor), I
> find the task of reinstating the spirit of questioning, inquiry and
> learning far more apropos. When I succeed in encouraging my students to
> question, I am delighted! <<<
> This well phrased observation triggered for me some thoughts.
> We see one of our institutional goals as facilitating the development and
> growth of critical thinking skills in our students. This is an
> interesting challenge because, IMHO, most MBA students view their two
> years as an opportunity to acquire "tools" that will help them master the
> "science" of business. They show up expecting that an MBA is all about
> discounting cash flows, performing regression analysis, and pricing
> options with the Black-Scholes model, certain that these are the skills
> they will need to succeed in business. They are unwitting (or unknowing)
> disciples of Taylorism, believing that management can be reduced to a
> "scientific" process. However, there are those of us (and certainly not
> all of us) here on the faculty that, like Mariann Jelinek, are convinced
> that long term success is not about finding answers, but about learning
> how to frame and then ask the right questions. And this is what the "art"
> of management is all about. I suggest to my students that management is a
> yin/yang thing - with science and art needing to be in balance.
> Stephen Brookfield has a recent book out called "Developing Critical
> Thinking" in which he suggests that (among many other profoundly
> intriguing ideas) critical thinking is all about understanding one's own
> assumptions, as well as the assumptions of others, and then considering
> them both individually and collectively to derive insight. He further
> suggests that the reaction to initially confronting this examination of
> assumptions is often to draw away, and to express hostility to the
> individual who has asked one to confront those assumptions. When we ask
> our students to examine their own thinking at this level, their reaction
> is often rather adversarial. They didn't come here to do that, they came
> here to learn "stuff."
Paradox on paradox: they of course have a right to learn "stuff" -- but we
didn't teach them that either, did we. If we handled it right, IMHO,
they'd come to you sick and tired of learning mere "stuff"; they'd be
emotionally and intellectually ready, demanding to understand what they'd
already learned of "stuff". (I'm exaggerating of course, to underline the
rhetorical point at hand.)
Tell the truth, my commute-time thinking on this has begun to look very
sceptically at that expression "critical thinking". The concept has
eroded, over the past several decades. If the measure of meaning here is
actual usage, then I'd have to admit I've talked to recent graduates who
could not tell the difference between "critical thinking" and an
The expression is getting worn out. What in blazes are we referring to?
> So why the resistance to asking questions in the first place? Could it be
> that our most critical job as educators or as manager/coaches is to first
> frame (or reframe) the set of expectations? Why do we seem to view risk,
> uncertainty and ambiguity as an enemy to be conquered rather than a friend
> to be embraced? What if we turned that archetype on its head? Our
> students love finance or quantitative analysis or the other "scientific"
> disciplines because, while the tools may be difficult to learn, the end
> result of the process is to find a number that represents the "answer."
> Most of the businesses with which I work reward people for finding the
> "answer" to problems, rather than framing problem solving as inquiry about
> the cause (sounds like systems thinking, eh?) Suppose we were to actually
> reward people for finding questions?
The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel wrote, in The Mystery of Being, that
(I'm paraphrasing heavily) the important questions do not have algorithmic
solutions because they engulf and surround us; we ourselves are their
preconditions. These he refers to as "mysteries" and leaves the word
"problems" for the kind your students want to solve.
[ snipped ]
> But I digress ... perhaps people cease to question because there is no
> reward for it, because it is "harder" than finding answers, and because we
> haven't framed the "question of questioning" correctly in the first place.
Somebody, I forget who, said a requirement for doing philosophy is the
capacity to hold mutually incompatible views, unresolved, for years at a
Well, a requirement for doing business is clearly the capacity to make
decisions on inadequate evidence. This is an art that, when successfully
practiced, would tend to make one somewhat contemptuous of those who wait
Look, I know I'm being a little perverse in my postings tonight -- I'm
feeling really sympathetic towards those who like their concepts stable,
their facts familiar. Thoroughly critical thinking, pursued for its own
sake, is not a controllable exercise. The _instant_ I learn to examine
any assumptions at all, I may well develop an unnatural interest in
examining _yours_, or those of the board of directors, rather than mine.
And beyond that... .
There _really_ are things to be afraid of there, aren't there? Starting
from the most pedestrian of common-sense "facts", we can get to Aristotle
or Plato or Aquinas in not more than ten minutes of intense questioning.
We are living through the most encompassing paradigm shift since the
Renaissance. About some of the biggest mysteries of who we are and what
we're all about, you can't change your mind very often.
These days it's not the "answer" that's blowin' in the wind, but the
questions. I really don't blame people, sometimes (tonight, for
instance), for hoping that if they just concentrate on the day's work, the
questions will blow over and away again.
-- Regards Jim Michmerhuizen firstname.lastname@example.org web residence at http://world.std.com/~jamzen/ -----------------------------------------------------^--------------------- . . . . . . . . . . Actions speak louder than words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . but not as clearly . . . . . . . . . .