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Knowledge management and critical thinking: Congress, legislative outcomes and systems thinking

Diversity of thought

When I began my knowledge management career in 1998, I had the good fortune to read Peter M. Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline1. One of the important tenets that I took away from the read is the idea of a “community of inquiry and experimentation.” This is and should be a continuing model for thinking and course of action decisions. I find that inquiry and experimentation lead to an improved ability to independently form (new) opinions, beliefs, and discover new facts and insights to further enrich and support any decision I need to make. This pursuit of both new ideas and more effective solutions to challenges and problems, relying in part on evidence-based research and learning (e.g. lessons learned), and critical thinking2, often involves sharing one’s ideas not only in their professional communities but also sharing these ideas publicly in speech and through publication. Diversity of thought is critical. It helps to keep one objective in their thinking.

Encouraging inquiry and experimentation

I was fortunate to attend Newark Academy, and Lehigh University, unique and independent secondary and collegiate learning institutions in the ’60s and early ’70s, that taught me the value and necessity of evidence-based research; how to conduct, analyze, and implement research and analysis to make better decisions while adding “common sense and sound business judgment” to the mix, eliminating emotion as much as relevantly possible, and while not ignoring my gut. This approach guided me through my United States Air Force (USAF) career. Given the space to share and add my ideas and opinions to a conversation, my ideas may not have prevailed but my voice was heard, my ideas were considered, and I believed that along the way my thoughts, ideas, and suggestions, formed part of the ultimate understanding of a position, decision or “consensus” solution. I was able to change an opinion more easily or adjust a conclusion. Unlike today, the educational and social environment then more often than not requested and encouraged diversity of opinion and thought—encouraging inquiry and experimentation to solve problems and address challenges.

Free speech and cancellation

Sharing of ideas and opinions is called free speech and with free speech there can be consequences. What you say can get you praised or ridiculed, included or excluded, hired or fired. If what you say can deprive you of your livelihood, the right to free expression is useless and a fear of retaliation is well founded. History is rich with examples of speech censorship where saying the wrong thing could get you arrested or killed; there is economic censorship in which the result is diminished information flow for media consumers that often rely on single (risky) or multiple pathways (better) to inform their own opinions, conclusions and to make decisions.

We are increasingly subject to being “canceled” for expressing our opinions, not only on the job but also on our own time in venues unrelated to our occupations. In those instances where the “sharer” publicly shares an opinion or conclusion that may not be broadly or specifically accepted, and attempts at cancellation fail, “guilt” becomes the tool of choice to influence behavior and thinking of those with whom you disagree. Emotion and personal or tribal agendas guide behavior; evidence and facts ignored, alternative “facts” promoted, even if the sharer’s conclusion follows a logical and “systems thinking approach” to their conclusion. While one can disagree with the conclusion and the approach for deriving that conclusion, one should account for a documented history of evidence and learned lessons relevant to similar or closely identical situations and their outcomes that the sharer provides.

I read an opinion article recently that states, “To be guilty means you’re culpable and responsible for some wrongdoing, ethically and/or legally. And if it’s accurate, we have to serve our time or pay our fine or make our apologies or somehow confess and atone. That’s a call for society to make, not special interest groups or individuals trying to manipulate us. But I’m not leading a life influenced by guilt flung by others who corrosively believe “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

Manchin and Sinema – critical, systems thinkers?

Consider the positions held by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on current reconciliation legislation. While the Senators serve demographically different constituencies, give the Senators credit for taking what appears to be a systems view to arrive at their current positions. Consideration has been given to the social, fiscal, environmental, and political objectives of the proposed legislation and the outcomes of its implementation. Many of those that disagree with the Senators have ridiculed and derided them. Does it make better sense to unpack their line of analysis, thinking, and conclusions in order to look for ways to arrive at common ground using evidence and learning…to apply evidence-based and critical thinking? And now with a 31 October deadline for a decision and vote announced by the House Speaker, there seems to be time to do this.

Legislative outcomes and requirements definition

Practically speaking, this is a discussion that must be focused on outcomes, should be requirements-based, and should be focused on actual need.

What defines success? What are the cost, schedule, and technical (fiscal, social, political, environmental…) challenges? How are the cost, schedule, and technical challenges balanced (trade-offs for best value) to achieve the best possible outcomes? What are the details of implementation and do they align with the requirements? For critical thinking and evidence-based analysis to guide decision making, the tendency to discuss this through the lens of how it will affect either the Democrats’ or Republicans’ political fortunes must change. Practically, this is not an all or nothing situation.  Sound business judgment and collective common sense underpin meaningful consensus.

Knowledge management and critical thinking are linked

Knowledge management and critical thinking are requisite fundamentals for legislative success. The two are essential in creating necessary understanding between differing opinions on problems and solutions and then guiding the thinking and behavior of members of Congress in defining and legislating effective solutions to national challenges.

Header image source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.

References and notes:

  1. Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday Currency.
  2. One definition: Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex; several different definitions exist, but which generally include the rational, skeptical, and unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities as well as a commitment to overcome native egocentrism and sociocentrism.
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Bill Kaplan

Bill Kaplan, a KM Practitioner, published author, speaker, and KM Coach, is the Founder of Working KnowledgeCSP, an independent, internationally recognized knowledge management consulting company and service disabled veteran owned small business. After a 25-year USAF career, Bill served as the Chief Knowledge Officer and Knowledge Management Practice Manager at Acquisition Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a public sector only management consulting company. Under Bill's knowledge leadership, ASI earned Top 20 North American Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) recognition from Teleos in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Global KM Practice Manager at SAIC. Bill holds a BS in Business and Economics from Lehigh University, an MBA from The Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and a Professional Degree in Engineering Management with a concentration in Knowledge Management from The George Washington University. Bill is a graduate of The Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy (formerly the Industrial College of the Armed Forces). He is also an adjunct professor in knowledge management at the University of Maryland, Global Campus.

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