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Main Street: Jan. 30, 2019

January 30, 2019 GMT

Recently, while working out at Riverside Health Fitness Center in Bourbonnais, I met a neighbor whom I have not seen in some time. I said to him, “You look good,” and he said he lost more than 100 pounds during the past two years.

Astonished, I asked what his secret was, and he said, “There are three ways to diet: Eat dumb, eat smart or eat smarter.”

I congratulated him on his stellar accomplishment, and then reflected on his words of wisdom.

At the minimum level of development, we all do things which can be considered dumb. We can make uninformed decisions, not thinking through our actions or just riding the wave of mediocrity.

Secondly, we can strive to be smart: reflecting on our decisions, putting forth more effort into learning new things or implementing the 2-percent rule (adding 2 percent more effort in our daily lives for self-improvement).

Finally, we can become smarter: understanding our God-given purpose and meeting the needs of others. It is the self-actualization stage of being all we can be, and one of the most difficult stage to accomplish.

Given all the cascade of clichés and reflecting on becoming smarter in our lives, Roy H. Williams said, “A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”

Therefore, being smarter is the essence of critical thinking: understanding, evaluating, synthesizing and reducing faulty thinking in our lives. In the academic world, we call this meta-thinking: Thinking about thinking, and it’s something we all fail to implement at times. If we fail to take time to think, we will ultimately fail in our own preconceived notions of acting smarter than we are.

An important theme begins to emerge when we engage in higher-level thinking as illustrated in the taxonomy of critical thinking, which was developed by Bloom. Illustrating this point, is a well-written article by The Learning Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I will highlight these critical dimensions, and then make my comments in parentheses on how to add this to your leadership domain.

Level 1. Remember: (Accessing points of the mind to remember critical facts, information, formulas, definitions, etc. This is the first level of accessing critical thinking and sets the basic foundation for higher-level thinking.)

Level 2. Understand: (Acquiring and implementing the ability to explain concepts and making meaningful connections by interpreting, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing and explaining.)

Level 3. Apply: (Application of recognizing and using concepts in real-world situations and to focus on the when, where, or how to engage and utilize new methods and ideas.)

Level 4. Analyze: (Accentuating the reverse engineering of an idea into components or examining a subject from a multitude of perspectives. It’s a system thinking analysis of looking at the whole picture, connecting the individual parts, and then thinking through the law of unintended consequences. Each action affects the whole system, so review the entire decision-making process to reduce unintended consequences.)

Level 5. Synthesize: (Acquiring the ability to bring individual elements together for the purpose of identifying themes or determining common elements to bring forth new ways of assimilating information into useful elements.)

Level 6. Evaluate: (Accepting the ability to make reflective judgments based on criteria or standards. Critiquing arguments and forging opinions based on values and not personal biases sets forth the stage for higher-level reasoning and evidenced-based practices.)

Level 7. Create: (Articulating and creating essential elements to form a coherent or functional whole. This is the highest order and most advanced component of Bloom’s taxonomy and centers on being smarter as illustrated at the beginning of this article.)

During these challenging times, we all need to follow the components as described above in Bloom’s taxonomy. These strategies also can be accentuated by using concept maps of thinking and outcomes.

Engaging in systems thinking also coalesces with Bloom’s taxonomy of higher levels of thinking. A common phrase is often bantered about to young children, “look before you leap.” I like to say, “Think before you act.”

In the final analysis, our thinking process often stalls with the deluge of information thrown at us. We all are guilty of multi-tasking and while we think we are being smart, we are actually reducing our brain’s capabilities to employ the concepts of higher-level thinking.

Our brains hit sensory overload, and our thinking is muted at best under these circumstances.

In that spirit, I will close with one of my favorite vignettes. The old story of you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. The horse replies to the cowboy: You can lead a human to knowledge, but you can’t make him/her think.

Let’s begin the new year with being smarter and thinking through your actions before you act. You may just find that you will indeed be smarter.