Good Writer or Good Thinker?

Have you ever had a boss who never tested their beliefs and assumptions, whose thinking was often illogical, and who frequently fell prey to decision-making traps? While experiencing that, did you say to yourself: “Gee, I wish the boss could write better.” Hell no! You wished the boss could think better. Maybe then they would not create so many problems and drive everyone nuts.

A boss who can’t write but who can think is far more valuable than a boss who can write but cannot think. Often, you cannot have both. In a previous blog post, I contrasted the outcomes associated with bad thinking and bad writing skills:

“The mayhem that occurs in business (financial crises), government (gridlock), or any other organization, is rarely due to poor writing by graduates. It is due to terrible critical thinking by graduates, often exacerbated by organizational politics. I want much better thinkers in this world than I want graduates who can write well – by a long shot – because better thinkers do less harm. In my view, the ability to write well is an overblown problem with little in the way of actual harm done.”

The conventional view says that graduates should be able to write very well. As a  teacher, I am not happy to read and correct students’ poor writing – especially given that most students’ writing abilities have been developed about as far as they are going to be developed (or about as far as students want to develop it) by the time they graduate from high school. So, I tolerate the grind and sacrifice myself to get the job done.

The real opportunity – the most important thing that must be done – is to teach students how to think, and also make them enthusiastic to want to teach themselves how to think after graduation. It is a life-long learning process. So, I mostly teach unconventional topics in unconventional ways, with great emphasis on improving upon students’ thinking skills.

Many teachers say “writing is thinking” and therefore the two are inseparable. I agree with that, but I also know that students can be taught to recognize patterns that inform them when they need to test their beliefs and assumptions, when their thinking is illogical, and how to recognize and avoid decision-making traps. Making these patterns clear to them is more important than understanding sentence patterns because it keeps them and others out of harm’s way. Especially important is to develop the ability to test beliefs and assumptions, identify illogical thinking, and avoiding decision-making traps in real time and when under pressure.

The reality is that some people like to write and want to write well, while most others don’t. When Lean management is correctly understood and practiced in the real-world, the greatest emphasis is on teaching people how to think and ongoing, focused efforts to improve how people think. Since Lean is a niche management practice, it looks like its up to us educators to teach people how to think.

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