Saturday, December 14, 2013

Critical thinking, critical problem solving and teamwork

Can we hold the future in our hands? But first things first; and it starts with the ABC or the barriers to problem-solving. They are: (A) our assumptions, (B) biases and (C) our comfort zones. Like families, it is not uncommon for nations to be dysfunctional. But as the accounting concept of net worth says, notwithstanding those barriers, a progressive enterprise could generate a healthy net worth. [And as my Eastern European friends learned, it is not about destiny – the first assumption they had to toss. And which we Pinoys must do likewise?] But that presupposes the ability to deliberately employ critical thinking. And like with most things, practice makes perfect.

A consistent theme of this blog is the folly of hierarchy; and the Vatican, the paragon of hierarchy, can't be exempt if we are to be true to the process of critical thinking. [Precisely because of the import of sensitivity, I didn't use the first person in my blog postings for more than 3 years or until I came out with a book, which then allowed me to personalize my thoughts.] In any case, “rank has its privileges” undermines critical thinking from the get-go. As I explained to my friends in Eastern Europe, it isn't ideal, for example, to emphasize their organization chart because it tells people that they are peons. (Hence management thinkers came out with the flat-organization design, consistent with the concept of high commitment work teams, for example, as opposed to the traditional command-and-control structure.)

An organization chart could indeed fog thinking. And even in the management ranks, those tiny organization-chart boxes could shrink the brain – as in, “that's not my job.” And I would relate the story of the general manager of a renowned hotel in Midtown Manhattan personally meeting me as I stepped out of the elevator and offering to lug my suitcase because the hotel staff had just gone on strike.

Beyond critical thinking (which even university graduates in the West don't necessarily possess) is the imperative of critical problem solving and teamwork. And that is not new, and which progressive global enterprises in fact raised decades ago. And thus many of them invested in an in-house virtual university to address a compelling need. Given that problem-solving is inherent in private enterprise, education and training as an intervention must deliver real-world solutions that can be executed in real time – i.e., they must be simple, not complex.

To illustrate: The simplest definition of problem solving is to get from point A to point B. Establishing point A sounds a no-brainier yet without the process of critical thinking, getting a good handle on the problem or defining it with clarity is undermined thus jeopardizing the problem-solving effort itself. And which in the vernacular goes: “alam ko na 'yan,” meaning, “don't insult me, I know that.” And worse, after we take point A for granted, we jump into formulating solutions without the benefit of defining point B – akin to a headless chicken.

Bearing in mind that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, problem solving efforts must satisfy the rigor of efficiency and productivity in order to attain the optimum, desired outcome. And in the 21st century world, it means the outcome, say a product, is competitive and replicable; in other words, the enterprise is sustainable. Failing to establish and meet those parameters – of establishing a vision coupled with clarity and coherence – could spell disaster. And because rank has its privileges, teamwork is undercut when everyone defers to and assumes that authority has all the answers. The evidence: we have become the economic laggards of the region; and if it isn't obvious yet, our failings – courtesy of our leaders – are reflected in the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution; the neglect of basic infrastructure, including energy; bypassing industrialization, among others. The fall out: a well-entrenched elite class – manifested in a system of political patronage and oligopoly – amid a sea of poverty.

What to do? Blame everyone and his uncle except ourselves? And it comes from another set of ABC? For example, we're proud that we raise our children in a sheltered manner because we want them protected from the influence of the secular world; thus exclusive Catholic schools for girls and boys are the norm. And as kids grow up, they see our world even more restrictive and confined as in our parochial bias. But not to worry, our educational system is world-class. Or we send our kids to the best institutions in the West. And once they awoke to the real world and realized that we're economic laggards, who would they blame – everyone and his uncle except ourselves?

And why this blog talks about my Eastern European friends, who eleven years ago knew very little about free enterprise. And they haven’t tired hearing the free-enterprise spiel: “You heard and read peddled lies over decades. But enough is enough, and inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, you embraced the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. It is not about destiny; it is about creating your own future. It is not a cakewalk. Even the West that is helping you to realize your dreams are your friendly competition; friends but competition nonetheless. But you can't be crybabies. No one owes you anything. Freedom and democracy presupposes maturity and demands hard work – and then some.”

“Your accession into the EU means you will have access to the EU infrastructure program. That is job no. 1 in every development enterprise. Infrastructure attracts investments; and especially with you abiding by EU rules on good governance and economic freedom . . . businesses from the West would come. They mean well but, remember, they are your competition. There is no handicapping in this environment and so you must rapidly learn the ropes of free enterprise. You experienced massive devaluation shortly after the fall of communism, but your economic managers did a great job stabilizing your currency.”

“The other good news is all of Europe is your market – with no tariff barriers. But that amounts to nothing if you cannot create competitive products – because even in your country, people would prefer high-quality, state-of-the-art Western products. Exchange rates and tariffs are a necessary evil and the best way to overcome them is to learn and be committed to the mantra of global competitiveness – that means your products are marketable not only in Europe but in all of the world. And that presupposes you are head and shoulders above even those schooled in the West that have not internalized the imperatives of critical thinking, critical problem solving and teamwork. You hold the future in your hands.”

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