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Critical Thinking Skills and The Cycle of Inquiry


“There is very little difference between people but that little difference makes a big difference.” – W. Clement Stone

One little difference that makes a big difference is possessing/acquiring CTS: Critical Thinking Skills and a fundamental part of Critical Thinking Skills is asking ambitious, focused, intelligent, provocative questions which in turn involves understanding the “Cycle of Inquiry”.

The Cycle of Inquiry involves sequentially asking “Why, What if, and How”, often over and over.

Asking “Why?” or “What is Our True Goal?” focuses on the desired outcome, the ultimate purpose we wish to direct our energies toward, the underlying meaning of the inquiry: why there is a problem, why it is a problem (for some or from another perspective it may not be a problem), why it still exists i.e. why it hasn’t been solved already.

Asking “What if?” or “How Might We?” or “What other paths lead to the mountain top?” helps us clear away obstacles in our mind, free our imaginations, and lets us see a different world. A variation of this is “Clean Sheeting” i.e. imagining that we are starting from scratch, building from the ground up versus attempting to modify an existing system or situation. If we were starting all over, what would we do different?

Asking “How?” or “What Would it Take?” leads us to the practical stage: creating action plans. When folks tell me something can’t be done, I sometimes ask “Could you do it if you had a million dollars?” Often the answer changes to “Sure, if I had a million dollars I could.” I then say “Well, then it is possible, we just need to find a more economical, cost effective way to do it!”

Questions are the “Engines of the Intellect”, leading us to challenge the status quo and seek new, different and better ways. The act of formulating questions enables us “to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.” The most effective questions are open ended (i.e. do not contain presumptions or constraints), solution-focused, action-oriented that concentrate our creative energies on transforming possibility into reality.

Closing Quotes:

“The most important part of my personality as far as determining my success has been my questioning conventional wisdom, doubting experts, and questioning authority.” – Larry Ellison

“Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read, teach them to question everything.” – George Carlin

“We live in the world our questions create.” – David Cooperrider

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” – Robert Half

“To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.” – John Ruskin

 “If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer.” – Edward Hodnett 

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” – Tony Robbins

“For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?” – James Allen

“I found I wasn’t asking good enough questions because I assumed I knew something.” – Alan Alda

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” – Anthony Jay

“We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” – Bono

As always, I share what I most want/need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier

5 Ways We Lie to Ourselves


Confirmation Bias: We look for evidence that confirms what we already believe and we discount that which makes us uncomfortable. Related to the Belief Bias; evaluating information not on the worthiness or credibility of the source but more upon how we feel (i.e. our beliefs) about the issue at hand.

Framing Bias: aka Blinders Effect: We define a problem or situation too narrowly, we laser in on certain aspects (often the most emotional or dramatic) to the determent of other, more salient aspects.

Self-Serving Bias: The tendency to see success as due to our ability/efforts, failures due to bad luck or outside influences; based upon a need to maintain our self-image/self-esteem and protect our egos. Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan; in any success in which multiple groups/individuals participate, each tends to ascribe the lion’s share to themselves.

20/20 Hindsight Bias: aka “I knew it all along”. We forget the uncertainty that existed before the event, now see what happened as predictable, much more inevitable. This bias undermines our future decision making ability and greatly hinders our ability to learn from events.

Attribution Effect: We tend to judge ourselves by our good intentions (internal), others by their behavior (external) or even by the outcome of their actions/behavior whether intended or not. Worse, our fears often lead us to attribute negative motives to what may be benign motivation or unintentional/unforeseen. Or as the cynical saying goes: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Closing Quotes:

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.” – John Dewey, 1859-1952, philosopher, psychologist, educational reformer

“Your job as a scientist is to figure out how you’re fooling yourself.” – Saul Perlmutter, b. 1959, astrophysicist, professor of physics, Berkeley

“Men judge things according to the disposition of their minds, and had rather imagine things than understand them.” – Baruch Spinoza; 1632-1677; Ethics, appendix to book I 

“When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.” – Thucydides, 460-395 BC

As always, I share what I most want/need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier


Beware the Halos or Horns Effect


Oh, we humans! We are SO full of cognitive bias (that’s psych speak for “jumping to conclusions”) and we are so often so unaware of our tendencies! We like to think that we think but really we usually make an emotional choice and then go looking for logical justification.

The “Halos or Horns Effect” is the human propensity to carry over associations: if we’ve had a good experience with one aspect of a group or organization or product, we tend to carry over our favorable impression to things related to it. The Halos or Horns Effect works on the negative side as well: we have a bad experience with one member of a group, we often judge the entire group.

Strange as it may seem, within reason, cognitive biases can serve a logical function: the world is complex, we need short cuts, rules of thumb to guide us through; it is impossible, exhausting, to approach every situation de nova. The key is to be remain aware, fully aware, of our tendency toward faulty reasoning, and to periodically step back and examine our internal mental maps of the world to insure that they correctly reflect reality.

Closing Quotes:

“Eliminate as many judgments of others in your thoughts as possible. The simplest, most natural way to accomplish this is to see yourself in everyone.” ― Wayne W. Dyer, 1940-2015, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life

“If there’s something you really want to believe, that’s what you should question the most.”  ― Penn Fraser Jillette; b. 1955, magician/illusionist (Penn & Teller)

“It is an acknowledged fact that we perceive errors in the work of others more readily than in our own.”  ― Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, 6’4”


As always, I share what I most want/need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier