Ceasing to Question LO2921

Forbes, Ted (ForbesT@Darden.Gbus.Virginia.EDU)
Fri, 22 Sep 95 09:27:00 EDT

Was: Kids on Teamwork LO2908

Mariann Jelinek suggests:

>>>Ivan's right; we can find lots of "good reasons" why people cease to
question. I'd add that such inquiry is hard work; that it requires
acknowledging that we don't know it all (tough!); and truly accepting our
own ignorance is a profoundly trusting thing to do, trusting that we'll
figure it out, in a world full of inducements to paranoia (like virtually
every newspaper's conspiracy theory of whatevr). For myself, as a
subversive of all that certainty by profession (university professor), I
find the task of reinstating the spirit of questioning, inquiry and
learning far more apropos. When I succeed in encouraging my students to
question, I am delighted! <<<

This well phrased observation triggered for me some thoughts.

We see one of our institutional goals as facilitating the development and
growth of critical thinking skills in our students. This is an
interesting challenge because, IMHO, most MBA students view their two
years as an opportunity to acquire "tools" that will help them master the
"science" of business. They show up expecting that an MBA is all about
discounting cash flows, performing regression analysis, and pricing
options with the Black-Scholes model, certain that these are the skills
they will need to succeed in business. They are unwitting (or unknowing)
disciples of Taylorism, believing that management can be reduced to a
"scientific" process. However, there are those of us (and certainly not
all of us) here on the faculty that, like Mariann Jelinek, are convinced
that long term success is not about finding answers, but about learning
how to frame and then ask the right questions. And this is what the "art"
of management is all about. I suggest to my students that management is a
yin/yang thing - with science and art needing to be in balance.

Stephen Brookfield has a recent book out called "Developing Critical
Thinking" in which he suggests that (among many other profoundly
intriguing ideas) critical thinking is all about understanding one's own
assumptions, as well as the assumptions of others, and then considering
them both individually and collectively to derive insight. He further
suggests that the reaction to initially confronting this examination of
assumptions is often to draw away, and to express hostility to the
individual who has asked one to confront those assumptions. When we ask
our students to examine their own thinking at this level, their reaction
is often rather adversarial. They didn't come here to do that, they came
here to learn "stuff."

So why the resistance to asking questions in the first place? Could it be
that our most critical job as educators or as manager/coaches is to first
frame (or reframe) the set of expectations? Why do we seem to view risk,
uncertainty and ambiguity as an enemy to be conquered rather than a friend
to be embraced? What if we turned that archetype on its head? Our
students love finance or quantitative analysis or the other "scientific"
disciplines because, while the tools may be difficult to learn, the end
result of the process is to find a number that represents the "answer."
Most of the businesses with which I work reward people for finding the
"answer" to problems, rather than framing problem solving as inquiry about
the cause (sounds like systems thinking, eh?) Suppose we were to actually
reward people for finding questions?

I have a colleague here who (we use the case method pedagogy, and class
participation counts for 50% of the final grade) has recently launched a
new idea where several students are selected to "listen" in a given class
and report on their observations of the learning process. Students report
that "I was amazed by the difference I could see. By not thinking about
how to get into the discussion, I could see where it was all going."
Dialogue? At least a first step.

But I digress ... perhaps people cease to question because there is no
reward for it, because it is "harder" than finding answers, and because we
haven't framed the "question of questioning" correctly in the first place.

Ted Forbes
Darden Business School
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA