To make a long story short

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What is with this focus on Critical Thinking?

Have you noticed school report cards now focus on critical thinking? You get extra remarks for “thinking outside the box”.

This may be a very empowering phrase for 20-somethings and 48-somethings. Especially for those who have grown up hemmed in with rules.

But what does it mean to a kid in Kindergarten?

If you want to think “outside the box”, you have to:
First figure out the box

The longer read
In the associated story — Canada Goose ON, Autopilot OFF — we talked about critical thinking as an EQ skill.

In his HBR article ‘A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills’, Zarvana’s Matt Plummer sets out four steps to attaining it: Execute. Synthesize. Recommend. Generate.


As he described the step Execute, my mind went back to the concept of mastery. And Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule in Outliers. And the idea of Automaticity in James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Think outside the box

Isn’t that pretty much the definition for critical thinking?!

But you can only do that successfully, and with intent, if you first understand what is inside the box.
Training wheels for critical thinking
Educators & parents at a recent conference heard my thoughts on this topic:

“Think outside the box only works when you understand the rules, size and structure of your box”
Critical thinking is a journey — just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car. Before you can do wheelies, you have to understand the concept of balance — and feel it in your bones.

Only then can you start breaking the rules.

The most important component we need to develop is the confidence that “you got this”.

We have to be willing to teach — and young adults should be willing to invest in learning — the value in mastery, in routine, in rote. So that they can develop the confidence necessary to be critical thinkers.
Start simple
Start with simple ideas:
Start of by following the recipe. This shows us how proportions and taste profiles affect flavour. Once we have that knowledge and confidence, we can substitute or get creative later. Learning the basics of how to drive a car on local roads, lets us handle unusual traffic conditions on high ways and in snowstorms later. Learning where the gears are, how to set the mirrors and where the brake pedal is — there are the basics. Understanding a manufacturing line or a set of bookkeeping routines, allows us to spot the anomalies.


There are things that humans are (currently still) better at than automation and AI. All the routine tasks will be absorbed. In fact, autopilot is one such technology. But it only works while everything is still stable.

Preparing ourselves to think flexibly, to evaluate options and to take actions are all steps towards developing that wonder skill called critical thinking.

Captain Sully was able to move onto the outside-the-box options because he had repeatedly drilled regular take-off and landings, and a number of emergency landings. At that moment, all the fine motor skills were poised and ready to go. And he could harness his brainpower to evaluate choices.

Next steps for Gen Z, Millennials and more …

Parents, educators or employers, Millennials, Gen Z/Zoomers:
Make: Make some changes. Give our K-8 the building blocks to develop pre-critical thinking skills at school and at home. Take: Take action. Want more information? Follow the links in the World Economic Forum article ‘This soft skill will boost your productivity’ Talk: How does our COVID experience change our relationship to critical thinking? As someone in a job, or as a job seeker aged 16–60, where could you leverage this insight?

Related episodes in the Critical Thinking EQ series:
Next week, Mental Gymnastics can land you a better job — Why employers are searching for Critical Thinkers.

Did this story have you looking at critical thinking in a different way? If you found this information valuable, please share it with others, engage in the discussion here or on LinkedIn, and let us know by rating, commenting & following the podcast Tilt the Future. What will you choose to do differently as a result?


Hi! I’m Karena. The concept of 21st Century skills such as Critical Thinking is discussed in my book, Contours of Courageous Parenting — Tilting Towards Better Decisions. Discover simple strategies for decision-making that can help us and our children aim for a little bit better each day. Sign up for the newsletter on my website to find out when the companion activity book will be available on Amazon.

Originally published at on November 13, 2019.

This post was previously published on

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Photo credit: Think outside the box by Karena de Souza using Canva ( Author )


The post Before you can think outside the box, you need to understand the box. appeared first on The Good Men Project.
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