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I Wish I Knew: Can We Think Critically & Move Quickly?

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

So many business leaders that I work with want to know if their organization can quickly rise to new challenges. Well, the short answer is “Yes!” Most likely, you already have the resources you need. You just need tools to leverage them.

When it comes to innovation, leaders often ask:

1. Why don’t people think?

2. Why don’t we innovate and create more?

3. Why is it that when we bring in new creative and innovative people they get pushed out?


Thinking is hard work. People think and engage most effectively when they are free from judgment. The secret is to support the thinking and encourage initiative. Sadly, I’ve met too many folks who’ve been told that it’s not their job to think. Imagine scolding a child who’s learning to walk and then expecting them to walk without fear.

Critical thinking is even more challenging. Leadership expresses the need for critical thinking and wonders why people aren’t making better decisions. Here’s the rub: everyone wants critical thinking, but few can define what it really is. Don’t assume there’s an accepted definition and simply proclaim that people ought to be doing it. You need to set expectations. Your people need clear professional development goals.

As the chart below illustrates, the only way to surf the ever-changing landscape of life’s challenges is to employ two channels of knowing; knowing the facts, or subject matter, and also understanding the context, the situational state. It’s a constant balancing act, but it’s a balancing act that can be learned and mastered.

Identifying a problem, sizing it up and devising solutions takes time and practice. Getting good at critical thinking requires you to see problems for what they are -- or are not. Beyond that, awareness of possible techniques is one thing, but effective use and application of those techniques is another conversation.

One of my executive coaching clients was very technically competent. He lived by the “god of correctness.” I’m right. I know I’m right. These people need to listen to me. Oh really? How do you know you’re right? How do you know that you know more than others about the big picture and business needs? Are people knocking down your door begging for your expertise?

We worked through a series of professional development topics to help him assess challenges within a broader context, beyond his own silo of expertise. Together we crafted an easy-to-implement toolkit he continues to use to this day. He calls it his “Top Five Frameworks” for grappling with sticky situations.

Five Frameworks

1. Size it up How big is it? How small is it? Is this an elephant-sized problem? Or just pea-sized? In some cases it might be a small problem that’s not really worth solving. In other cases, the solution requires greater investigation and tools.

2. History Have we been there, done that? What worked in the past? Why or why not?

3. Data What do we need? Who has it? Is it any good? Can we get it? How?

4. Knowledge What do we know? How do we know? What are we missing?

5. Decisions What decisions need to be made? When? By whom?

The big “aha” moment came when he recognized that there is more to competence than technical skills. Knowing what you know and don’t know – metacognition -- and behaving and collaborating accordingly, is a massive differentiator, and an important critical-thinking tool.


Be mindful about what you expect; you just might get it. People and teams think creatively when they are expected to. But if you expect them not to, they won’t! There are two primary drivers for innovation and creativity. One is survival. The other is a safe and protected environment.

Instead of bemoaning the lack of innovative thinking, try seeing it as an opportunity for talent development. Your people can learn by doing. Experience breeds wisdom, and metacognition aligns it. ClearPeg’s process helps develop and strengthen metacognitive traits. As these qualities become second nature, people are able to secure and move on opportunities that others will miss. But it takes commitment, and it takes practice.

Take a look at Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve below. It’s astounding to understand how much the human brain forgets within the first hour of experiencing something. And without reinforcement, after a month we’ll usually only recall something with 20% accuracy.

On the other hand, Ebbinghaus’s Learning Curve shows us that practice and strategically-timed reminders can have a profound effect. Our chances of retaining something can be vastly improved, and new ideas and techniques can transform from alien, even uncomfortable concepts to regular habits and even fully integrated behaviors.

People learn best when there’s a problem they can assess and resolve. When you engage ClearPeg to work with your future leaders, we introduce the right tools and frameworks at the right times, and in the right proportions. And we reinforce these ideas through ongoing dialogue, making the most of the learning curve.


Are your top critical thinkers loyal to your organization? Do they feel supported and nurtured?

Organizations routinely struggle to provide truly safe thinking spaces for people. Thinking is hard and potentially dangerous work. What’s non-controversial today can become career- or relationship-limiting tomorrow, so people tend to keep their thinking and questions close to the vest.

Where does someone go to think with impunity? One option is to seek a credible outsider to build trust with. Most organizations are not prepared to provide such guidance. Yes, they may pay lip service to career coaching, talent management, or professional development topics, but typically these are little more than “tick box” activities for performance reviews and compensation norms.

People will always be the source of creativity, innovation, and the critical thinking that build a better tomorrow.

To reach their full potential quickly, people require an unfettered, unbiased space to vet their thinking. This is where executive coaching comes in. This feedback and sounding board helps them develop. A guide or coach must have credible, real-world experience and be able to meet people where they are in their journey. People are blessed when they find mentors who truly care, and who have the knowledge and ability to provide non-judgmental feedback that enables them to grow on their own terms.

I’ll leave you with four top tactics for achieving organizational agility. And remember, your people can learn these behaviors:

- Engage where you are.

- Understand the problem.

- Navigate to the solution.

- Don’t give in to inertia…THINK CRITICALLY AND ACT!


ClearPeg was founded in 2021 around a vision of helping people maximize their potential through coaching. Learn more >

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