Leader Thinking Skills

Collaboration Is Thinking

Effective Leaders have great thinking habits.  Good thinking distinguishes good leaders from mere title holders with prescribed authority.  Their teams excel because of these leader leverage areas:  thinking competence, coaching team member thinking and creation of a climate of trust to risk disagreement.

Our Critical Thinking framework incorporates research into what distinguishes leaders with excellent reputations as problem solvers and decision makers.  This previous research studied notable successes then reverse engineered them to reveal a common approach. The common thread was a thinking approach that excels and which anyone can learn. This approach empowers teams to apply logical, fact-based questions that focus thinking, pulling together available information quickly to guide needed inquiry.

The process adapts easily to any situation.  No jumping the gun with guesses or needless rushes to judgment or spending time on irrelevant information.  Now any team can organize the available facts and use them to improve their judgments. The analysis is clear and easily understood by stakeholders not at the meeting.

[1] CONCERN ANALYSIS: A few key questions separate issues, assess priority and determine the best thinking approach for each issue (team ~30 to 60 minutes).

[2] PROBLEM SOLVING: Describes the problem, define a few high-quality potential causes, and then use the facts to determine the most likely cause before moving on to verification of the true cause (team ~45 to 75 minutes).

[3] ROOT CAUSE TRACKING:  Root causes are problem factories.  But they present golden opportunities to streamline systems and escape the ‘firefighting treadmill’.  Root Cause analysis is how to beat the competition with better processes and take pressure off tomorrow making it more problem free. The above Problem Solving process is the key to unlock true root causes.

[4] DECISION MAKING:  Whether it’s Interim Actions, Corrective Actions, or System Improvement, knowing how to make the best-balanced choice is how creative, practical and timely decisions are created (team

~45 to 120 minutes).

GM – Customized project Endorsement

Richard C. Wells (Rick)
Vice President Critical Thinking
Partner / Business Processes Inc.
POB 1456
La Jolla, CA. 92038

Dear Rick,

I am pleased to write this letter of recommendation regarding the work Business Processes Inc. did for us in the GM Service Technology Group. Our objective at the time was to come up with a method of teaching problem-solving skills to GM service technicians. Our project involved finding a way to integrate problem-solving exercises into a technical training course. The results were very successful. My development team provided the automotive information while your team provided the problem-solving expertise. The development process involved several meetings in which you spent learning what our needs were and designing compatible problem-solving exercises.

The result of this project was an eight-day course for Drivability Technicians called Engine Performance Diagnosis. The BPI Systematic-Trouble-Shooting process was incorporated into one-day of lessons and student applications to bugged cars for their final exam in automotive diagnostics. This course is currently being offered at GM Training Centers across the USA. It is also being offered as part of the curriculum for the GM Automotive Services Apprenticeship Program. Feedback from technicians who have attended has been extremely positive.

The success of this project was largely due to your ability to be flexible and to apply problem analysis to many different types of situations. Your approach in working with the development team was very effective. I enjoyed working with you and appreciate what your company was able to do for this project. If I can be of further assistance, please contact me.


Susan D. Christophersen
Regional Service Manager
Great Lakes Region


Apply Critical Thinking!



A recent blog on Facebook mentioned 16% of those ticketed for jaywalking in their community were of one race.  The racial percentage of that group in the community was only 10%. Comments on Facebook included a few that assumed the cause of this gap was police racial bias leading to unfair ticketing (harassment). 

Critical Thinking Approach

Our approach to understanding an unexpected or undesirable observation is to evaluate potential causes using the known facts. While admitting that this type of issue can stir up wounds and memories of abuse, anger and injustices, we want to step back and prescribe how to analyze the situation. That’s our business. We teach critical thinking. Our experience has been that problems only get worse without an accurate under-standing of the precipitating causes.  In this example:

“Why does this ethnic group receive 16% of the jay walking tickets?”


Imagine we are a group given authority and responsibility to monitor and eliminate racial bias in policing.  We define racial bias in this context as enforcement behavior differentially applied between racial groups including these categories of police actions:

  1. Observe and ticket.
  2. Observe and give warning.
  3. Ignore an infraction – fail to act.
  4. Fabricate an infraction.
  5. Police-Suspect Interaction Issues (physical, verbal, type of restraint, use of force)

Policing – Stated Objectives

  1.  JUSTICE – Only violators to be ticketed.
  2.  FAIRNESS – No violator will be ticketed or not ticketed based upon race.
  3.  ACCURACY – Obtain accurate assessment of any race-biased enforcement.
  4.  QUALITY OF LIFE – seek to make the community more safe, pleasant, just, and agreeable to all residents.
  5. IMPROVE RELATIONSHIP between police and each part of the community (all races, all people, and institutions).

Big Picture

It is common for people to jump to conclusions and recommend a solution to a “problem” based solely upon assumptions about what is happening.  Therefore, we want to start not with a solution, but with an analysis that verifies the true cause.

Why? Knowing the cause is likely to obtain better results including not making the problem worse and/or causing new problems.

QUOTAS.  For example, the imposition of quotas has become a common solution to racial bias.  This shifts the focus away from bias and onto a number.  Then someone can hide bias by manipulating the number(s). 

An analogy: Suppose your doctor took your temperature and the reading was verified at 104F degrees.  Or, what if he cooled the (old) thermometer two 40F degrees before using it to measure your temperature?  That could result in a lower temperature reading [due to not having enough time to read the body’s temperature].  You are still sick as before, but the measure may not reveal it.

Quotas are open to different manipulations.  The biased organization may attempt to work on the numbers and not the cause of the numbers.  This can easily result in sacrificing justice, fairness and accuracy.  What if police leaders monitor the numbers and then issue targets to level them and to hide bias.  “Today, no jay-walking citations for ethnic group A.  Give tickets to ethnic group B only.”  What’s wrong with that?  It sends the wrong message to law breakers.  Demoralizes police and makes a sham of the oaths they’ve taken to enforce the laws of the city. The numbers do not represent truth, just hides it.

Quotas can be a last ditch effort to improve fairness, but they are far from an ideal solution – we think.  The A group will learn that they can flaunt the laws.  And more serious violations may follow from them.  The community is not stupid.  Many will see the police failing to do their job.  The A group will get a bad reputation as privileged, and resentment will grow all around.

Gathering relevant facts helps develop quality potential causes.  Evaluation consists in finding the best fit of a potential cause to the available facts. The better the facts fit a potential cause the more likely it is to be the true cause.  And, then it is worth trying to verify.


Let’s assume for the moment that we think the true cause of 16%/10% observation is police racial bias! What facts would we expect to find in answer to the questions below?

  1. Review street camera recordings.  What is the total number of violations recorded by race before the police get involved. (Expect the A group does not show more jaywalking than other groups.)
  2. What is the full community distribution by race in relation to J-tickets? (Expect no other ticket anomalies with other races.)
  3. What other characteristics do those being ticketed have, like gang membership, age, history of violations, police identified Persons Of Interest in more serious violations? Relationships in the neighborhood? (Expect no distinguishing differences in other characteristics found for those ticketed in A group.)
  4. What is the ethnicity of the police officers issuing the tickets. (Expect mismatch of police to suspect race.)
  5. How many people given tickets were previously known to the police officer issuing the ticket (Expect no pattern of previous relationship between ticketing officers and specific jaywalkers)
  6. What valence in terms of mutual respect existed? (We’d expect a relationship that was neutral on average).
  7. What was the larger imposed goal for policing by management? How was the big picture framed for the officers by their superiors. (E.g., No announced curfew program; or goal of breaking up groups of youth on the street.).
  8. Were there complaints about jaywalking from residents and its impact? (Expect no unusual number of complaints about blocking traffic, accidents, or rowdiness complaints from neighbors blaming jaywalkers).
  9. Volume of foot traffic by race (Expect no more people of this race on foot in the community than their percentage of population).
  10. Day, Location, Time and traffic conditions can influence police activity. (Expect no patterns in the environment resulting in more police in the area.)
  11. Are there certain officers who hand out more-tickets to this race than fellow officers? (Expect no officer to stand-out in # of tickets issued).

MOST LIKELY CAUSE? Fast forward. Did the available supplemental facts fit the bias theory? Whatever potential cause fits the facts best needs to be tested to verify if it is the right one.

TEST. If bias is the most likely cause, we must TEST that theory. Maybe have a number of different race small groups Jaywalk in the area and see if the police ticket unequally.


One cannot prescribe a great cure without knowing what the real cause(s) are. And the cause today may not be the cause long ago or in the future.  Only when you verify the true cause can one get an effective corrective action. And above all keep clear on your purpose. Is improving the health, safety and fairness in our community the goal? Great. Count me in.

[I agree with those who say that a Jay-ticket argument may not be about Jaywalking. Like arguments with one’s spouse, what your spouse says is upsetting them may not be what they are upset about. So don’t argue first.  Everyone must first listen!]

Make Meetings Work

Online, offline, teleconference, watercooler …

PURPOSE:  My first recommendation is that any meeting must have a clear purpose.  That purpose will influence how the meeting is prepared for, who should attend, and how it is followed up.

PROCESS:  How the meeting will proceed should fit its purpose and the purpose should be understood by the team along with what activities will be employed to accomplish that purpose.

RESPONSIBILITY:  Each team member must understand their responsibility as it relates to each activity and to the core purpose of the meeting.  Part of that responsibility is to be willing to speak up when others may not be doing their part.  All people attending a meeting are responsible for its success.  Clarifying purpose and responsibilities is the role of the leader.  But each team member owes allegiance to that clarity.

“DEATH BY MEETING: A Leadership fable” is a book by Patrick Lencioni (page 365):

 “The single biggest problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into the same meeting.”

He discusses four types of meetings with different purposes and time horizons.  Great book – easy to read (it’s a business novel).  Lencioni has other good books too, like “The Five Dysfunctions of a TEAM: A Leadership fable”.  He points out that the lack of constructive conflict is one sign of dysfunction caused by a lack of trust.

CRITICAL-THINKING:  Critical-thinking meetings begin after making sure the team’s purpose is the right one for their current situation.  For a Problem Solving discussion: Is the team trying to decide on an INTERIM action aimed at the effects of a problem?  Or do they know the cause and can move on to an evaluation of CORRECTIVE actions focused on removing the cause of the problem?  When teams are led by critical-thinking, they proceed using key questions in the right sequence.   We have found that people easily participate when asked clear, relevant questions aimed at tapping their observations (facts), understanding, and judgment as needed.

Richard C. Wells
VP Research & Developmen
Business Processes Inc.
“Results Through Systematic Thinking”


We just received an inquiry about our definition, if any, for truthiness. We don’t have one but Wikepedia states:

Truthiness / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stephen Colbert uses “truthiness” on the debut episode of The Colbert Report.

“Truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.”

This fits our definition of SPIN.  The spinner very much wants to share their conclusion but does not have evidence.  Danger ahead!  :[[  A rose by any other name is a rose.  Pray we do not start having truthiness lawyers in murder trials.


Fishbone Purgatory (runaway divergence)

We received this question from a recent graduate of our Systematic Problem-Solving (SPS) workshop:

“Our organization is a supplier to the U.S. Military.  We are required to submit a Fishbone Diagram for problems they and others refer back to us for resolution.  We even have whiteboards in our team meeting rooms upon which the Fishbone Diagram is permanently embedded to remind us to always use this approach. What do you suggest?”

Of course, we recognize you must give your customer what they want!  Just don’t let this be the only thing you do.  It is possible to rapidly create a Fishbone that covers all the necessary categories.  Then, be sure to avoid Fishbone Purgatory by completing the BPI SPS Problem-Solving analysis.  The completed Fishbone will assure your customer you considered a wide range of potential causes.  The SPS analysis will enable you to converge and verify the true cause of the problem.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with why there is a need for our non-Fishbone approach to resolving problems, please read the continuation of this discussion in the article: https://www.critical-thinking.com/articles/fishbone-purgatory.pdf

Critical Thinking GAP. Its been 40 years! Wake-up academia!

TEACHERS! Ask for help when you need it!  (This email was sent to us by a concerned citizen.)

“My reading of the 1999 article by Professor Diane F. Halpern then of CSU San Bernardino, CA. left me wondering when academia will wakeup and admit they have failed to fix a problem that almost everyone else sees as their primary responsibility- teaching students to think clearly about their actions in the world benefiting from the wisdom of others and making their own reasoned evaluation of complex situations with depth and understanding. Professor Halpern writes, “Critical thinking is purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed” extolling the progress colleges have made over the past decade (since 1980’s).  Purposeful and goal directed seem like the same thing to me but that’s not important here.   As we reach 2020 we do see students who shout down others and who blast whistles to drown out speakers with whom they disagree.  This is purposeful and goal directed student behavior – mission accomplished!  These “students” are not engaging in rational dialogue with those “others”.

To me they seem more like objects bewitched by sorcerer apprentices (teachers, professors, activists) from public school through whatever college level they attained.  They have learned their lessons well.  They are as sophisticated as a child who screams “bloody murder” when they can’t get the coveted candy bar they seek at the grocery store.   This newest crop of legal adults appear to resort immediately to bullying, threats, and harassment as tools to get what they want, not listening, discussing, or reasoning. And they surely are not out to learn anything (random chance forbid!)

How does this skill-set toddlers naturally possess translate into helping organizations, public or private, provide a product or service to others or even making the world a kinder, better place?  It doesn’t.  Organizations are noticing the gap between what jobs demand and what skills college graduates have. Rights properly understood enable us to fulfill our responsibilities.  (Thank you Jordan Peterson, Ph.D.)  I remind these students that rights are not a credit card for benefits to the good life the rest of us must pay off.

Some questions for your blog participants to respond to:

* Who is running the colleges and universities now?  What is the dominant emotion?

* What is the purpose of the institutions the students are attending?

* What roll does history, ethics, philosophy and civics play in being educated?

* What role could valuing understanding, the contributions of others, and humility play in making the world a better place – even for those that our child-like adults have learned to shut-down by force?

Make “NEWS” news again. EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!


FOX NEWS, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, NPR, WSJ and “news” channel outlets online who think that “news matters” should follow these suggestions ASAP:

This is an opinion piece after witnessing the “news stories” in the “newspapers”, magazines and cable news shows for, well, my entire adult life. I think reporting organizations can easily do a much better job of identifying and reporting the RELEVANT FACTS in the stories they report. As it stands now, there is almost nowhere to go if one wants to get the facts of a political story in one place, and most stories are spun as political in some way. For example, I want to know what the President said vs. what the media says he meant. HEY! You “news” people tend to skip a step!

[2] What facts? Specifically please report upfront in the story the TRIGGERING EVENT, comment or action in raw form that the story is about. Don’t start with the reporter’s opinion of what the story means. Allow the reader, viewer, or listener to decide that. At least separate the reporter’s opinions from the facts. Perhaps putting the opinion in an OPINION BOX at the conclusion of the report or video? Do this and the world could be a more rational and less hostile place and your career might actually grow to be respected.

[3] Editors should support reporters in this effort with coaching, approval, bonuses and favored status? In short, align incentives toward this goal of facts and clarity and away from opinion, bias and judgment and management’s political agenda, if any.

[4] PEJORATIVE GLOBAL TERMS should be defined within the story so we, the listeners/viewers/readers can judge for ourselves if the facts support the label being applied (e.g. racist, sexist, homophobic, traitor, white nationalist, alt-right, alt-left, Nazi, Communist, Socialist, Fake News …) This should always be an independent definition and not a circular argument like “X said this and that means they are a racist.” A dictionary or a history book might be useful here? Your customers should actually learn something by reading or watching you report, at least something beyond your opinions.

[5] NEWS ORGANIZATIONS – it is not about you, your thoughts, your feelings or your anything. So, STOP making the news about you (e.g. by sponsoring your own surveys and the formation of panels of IDENTICALLY-MINDED opinion makers who present their consensus as unopposed truth which you then report as news. Or stating your opinion and finding several people who agree and only using them in your story. Or, interviewing one side asking them what the other side thinks instead of actually interviewing the other side and letting them speak for themselves.)

[6] SOCIAL MEDIA – I think that the USA government should define what social media companies are under the law (publishers? broadcasters? both? other?) and therefore how they must operate their businesses under existing laws and regulations. Perhaps the social media companies themselves could develop standards of practice and at least some code of ethics regarding deceptive use of information, slander, false reporting, and censorship tactics. That would be worth a try. They can start by defining EVIL and how they will work to avoid creating it. Imagine your political rival doing exactly what you are doing and then ask is that fair? If not, stop it.

[7] Government supported UNIVERSITIES and COLLEGES who fail to support open discussions of differing points of view should suffer funding cuts with funds going to institutions that do demonstrate that debate and reasoned discussion are their institutional values. Here too, standards for allowing differing points of view on campus AND in classrooms could be developed by inter-institutional panels representing the public, students and the academic institutions themselves. I suggest self-defining the purpose of each institution and why it deserves taxpayer funding followed by a student bill of rights and responsibilities to start. Don’t leave out the responsibilities part. Children do that – naturally. Educated adults should not.

[8] Offer the equivalent to a NOBEL PRIZE IN JOURNALISM or some such thing? Perhaps the creation of a Gates PRIZE FOR JOURNALISM (no not the ICFJ for shaping the world. You get no points for shaping the world in your image!) Or find some other endowment sources (crowd funding?). The money prizes could be used to recognize and reward reporters and news organizations for their exceptional pursuit of truth and outstanding service to “NEWS” following the above guidelines. I repeat, the award would NOT be given to those who seek to SHAPE public policy or the world but to those who supply raw materials (facts) to those who need them for thinking and judging what actions to take (the news consuming public and voters). It is not your job to shape public opinion.

Your mission should be to observe the highest reporting standards across a broad range of your reporting realm and strive for the ability to organize facts, research trends and context perspectives benefiting the education of all. A transparent representative committee of different ideologies and world views should be maintained to award this prize. This would be an annual prize that might skip years as determined by the availability of qualified candidates.

[9] Context and trend information should cease being manipulated to fit the news reporter’s or more likely editor’s bias. The great reporter would be adept at sniffing out “Gerrymandered” trends, for example the use of self-serving beginning and ending dates. Also, one example does not a case make for a vast conspiracy right or left.

[10] OPPORTUNITY! Report relevant facts and grow rich? The “news” situation at present offers an excellent business opportunity for someone(s)! Any group of investors who might seek to do a good job instead of the mashup job we have now, and who can tell a fact from a canard (an unfounded rumor or story) please step forward! The time is right. Go for it!

Remember this is an opinion piece. Thank you and good luck!

Problem Solving TIPS Discussion


Melinda, a recent graduate of our Systematic Problem Solving one-day workshop asked this question about one of the problems her team was working on:

MELINDA:  Focusing upon what was specifically observed, my team wrote this Statement Core temperature gage is 20% above target operating temperature.We began, being most careful to be specific.  We identified the problem object and problem defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3’s Core Temperature Gage

DEFECT: Reading Too High

I recalled that our BPI instructor had a discussion with us about how to split the object and defect to allow consideration of proper range of potential causes and to avoid blind spots in thinking.  I wanted a quick check with you about our split.  Any suggestions?

BPI FACILITATOR: The main thing to remember about defining the defect and object is this.  When working on a SYSTEM we recommend you define the object as the system and the defect as any deviation observed.  So with the problem you worked on (above) we’d define the Object and Defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3

DEFECT: Core Temperature Gage Reading Is Too High

The reason this is a better SPLIT is it facilitates a discussion of anything about the system that might be causing the gage to show a core temperature increase.  In your original split the object was the Gage.  In addition to the “obvious” possibility that the core is too warm, the team’s attention then goes to many other things that might create a false warm reading.  But the point is your first split takes the attention off the system and puts it on the gage – off the big thing and onto the monitoring device.

We recently saw a similar thing happen at an automotive assembly plant where the plant people defined the Object as a sensor rather than the Automobile.  And we see this in the media when a reporter makes a negative report about a person, place or thing and the focus becomes almost exclusively the reporter as the problem (deserved or not.)  A focus on the big thing as the object encourages exploration of options beyond a faulty reporting mechanism (i.e. a biased or ignorant reporter).

One final example comes to mind.  When researchers reveal research that supports an unpopular “idea”, attacking them as biased and a tool of the XYZ industry or political correctness has become common.  While researcher bias may always be considered in these situations, other potential causes should also be evaluated.

When you hear attacks solely against a speaker in the absence of any reasoned discussion of his or her ideas, consider this may be an attempt to distract you from the new information the speaker might offer.

Multitasking myth?

The word “Multitasking” seems to communicate being able to do multiple things at once.  Perhaps a better definition would be “Juggling several things at once, taking turns giving attention to one thing after another, and managing transitions.”  Realty sometimes demands this kind of rotation or splitting of awareness, as anyone who is responsible for children can attest.  However, at work, organizations pay a big price when multi-tasking is used and worse if it is common and expected!

Eli Goldratt, in his book Critical Chain, points out the damage multi-tasking does to project durations. Important projects are delayed while less important projects are worked on perhaps because of the need to show progress at the next project review.  Goldratt strongly advocates that organizations set clear priorities with one most important project at a time.  Then that is the project that is always worked upon first, given an opportunity to do so.   Every department knows the priority of each project and works accordingly. The #1 project is NEVER to be delayed while resources are applied to another.  Businesses following Goldratt’s model, which includes not multi-tasking and a special project buffering strategy, routinely cut project durations more than 50%!

We have an article on the Member part of our website entitled Project Management Tip #1. (Become a member of our website with your email to access this article.)  The article demonstrates mathematically that using six identical resources (i.e. people) on one project and avoiding spreading their efforts across six projects, all else being equal, earns an average 42% improvement in project durations for those six projects.

An individual focusing on one project at a time, will avoid time wasted putting down one project and picking up another.  Mental effort is reduced and errors become far less likely.

Here is more information about what other critics of multitasking have to say:

Unlimited Memory by Grandmaster Kevin Horsley:

“Multi-tasking is a myth”; “Stop multitasking”; “Our brain can … only focus on one thing at a time”; “When you (think) you are multi-tasking you are actually switching between tasks”;

“We (humans) cannot do more than one thing at a time.  Sharpen your intellect by returning to the habit of doing one thing at a time.”; “Rediscover the value of sequential tasking, instead of settling for the quality dilution associated with simultaneous tasking.”

“Exceptional work is always associated with periods of deep concentration.”; “Nothing excellent comes from scattered effort.”  “We are training our brains to an attention deficit.”

Marilee Springer – Neuroscience consultant:

“Multitasking is known to slow people down by 50% and add 50% more mistakes.”

Enough said?