Friday, February 22, 2008

Caution: Critical Thinking Ahead

Today is the last of my two-armed blogs for a while.

That may sound strange, but true. On Monday, I go under the knife (gasp) to have torn tendons fixed in my elbow. I'll be in a full cast for a couple of weeks, then face whatever comes after that. While I've planned ahead as much as possible (turning in work early, advising people I may be on drugs), there's still a knot in my stomach as I contemplate what's going to happen when I can't even do my own hair, and can't write (it's my right elbow and I'm right handed...of course).

But, being a Little Miss Organizer, I've already gotten a new wireless track mouse for my computer that will make it easier for me to use while in a cast. I've stocked the freezer with easy foods and even written out a day-by-day menu for my family. I've paid the bills early, made sure there's plenty of dog and cat food in the house and stocked the garage with enough toilet paper and paper towels that we won't run out until the next presidential election.

Still, I think what I'm the most leery about is what I'm going to do with my mind while I'm forced to recuperate. My doctor has issued strict instructions: rest, rest and rest. "Stay off that %$# computer!" he warned me. "And once your cast comes off, stay off that $%^ computer!"

Of course, he knows that's not going to happen, but I've been in enough pain for more than a year now that I'm not foolish enough to go back to work too soon and ruin all his hard work.

I remember a CEO of a Fortune 100 company I interviewed about 10 years ago who was retiring. He told me at the time that what he was most concerned about regarding the success of American businesses was not our ability to be productive, or our ability to compete on a day-to-day basis. What worried him, he said, was our lack of critical thinking skills that would really impact us in the coming years.

How many bosses, he asked me, would think it was OK to see an employee reading a book while on the job? How many managers, he said, wouldn't have a problem finding a worker staring out a window for an hour?

The CEO said that most managers would hit the roof if they saw an employee doing either of those activities. The reason, he said, was because workers were becoming so task-oriented that they were judged more on their busyness than their ability to think. And, without that, American companies would not have the creative and innovative solutions they needed to stay ahead of the curve, he said.

This conversation from 10 years ago is ringing very true with me lately. I know that I spend less time just thinking. I've become very task focused, and much less comfortable just sitting somewhere and contemplating life, or reading a book just because it will expand my mind, and not because it has something to do with my work.

I see employees every day grapple with how to stay ahead of e-mail and phone calls and meetings, with little or no incentive to just take time to think. Shoot -- people don't even want to take all their vacation time because it's too much hassle to get away, and even when they do go somewhere, they take e-mail and cell phones with them. They multitask like crazy, even though it's been shown that's a less productive strategy.

As I write this last two-armed blog, I know that the coming weeks will be interesting, unsettling, frustrating and filled with lots of bad hair days. At the same time, I know that I'm lucky in many ways because I'm going to do something I've needed to do for a while: think.


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Anonymous said...

Best wishes for a speedy recovery! Thinking time is at a premium, and I'll be looking forward to learning what you thought about when you get back to writing again :-)
Take care,
Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

Thanks for your good wishes. Should be an interesting time....especially when those pain meds kick in!

DebMc said...

As someone who has broken her right arm a couple of different times in a couple of different places, let me assure you'll do fine.

You'll be awkward, but that's okay. It will be funny, too.

Be patient with yourself. Even more important is to be kind to yourself during your recovery.

As for the thinking skills, this has become a geniune concern of mine. As a Christian homeschool mom, I'm raising the next generation of voters, business men, leaders, and (hopefully) thinkers. How we develop this skill in young people is not too difficult, but, in my opinion, isn't being done in our public school systems. It takes too much time. It takes messy questions and even messier answers, or non answers. It takes wrestling with different concepts until they cry 'uncle.' Tasks, not thinking are being taught. Test taking, not learning. Factory thinking, not enterprenurial thinking.

You triggered a true reaction today. I must think more on this!

I'm delighted to have discovered your blog.

Anita said...

As a Mom myself, I know exactly what you're saying. I see my own children drilled constantly on how to take the next assessment test, and less time really given to absorbing and exploring what they learn. Thanks for the words of might be good for me to delegate more, and just let go of the stuff I can't control. I'm glad you like the blog...I think you've got good things to add, and I hope you'll comment when you can.

Anonymous said...

Being productive means both having control of all those daily tasks as well as perspective about where we are going. Unless you have both, you'll believe you'll be missing stuff -- and you'd be right.

It's good to get away from the daily grind for a bit. While not exactly staring out a window, being away will let the mind rest and come up with new insights.