Question Everything...Then, Question It Again

Critical Thinking And Analytical Skills
Asier Romero/
Summary: In the one business discipline you'd expect people to question what others are telling them, Learning and Development is more like the Wild West, willing to accept anything that sounds remotely credible. It's time to do what learning is best at doing, and that's to be critical thinkers.

A Need For Critical Thinking And Analysis

Operating a business over the years, we've had to interact with governmental tax agencies. As a result, I always call the tax advisors more than once for the same query. Why do I do this? According to the government, during a routine audit, it's my responsibility, not the government's, to receive valid information. Now, I always call the advisors several times to confirm I'm receiving consistent and valid answers. Why is this story relevant and timely? It proves that even those you consider "experts" are fallible and may mislead you unintentionally. It's not that those government advisors intended to mislead me. It's more they didn't realize the error or they were unable to acknowledge their own ignorance. Come to think of it, this may have been an opportunity to provide better training for the advisors. This story expresses the need to hone your critical thinking and analytical skills. The simplest way is to question everything, continue questioning, then question the answers you receive. This technique annoys our clients to no end because we question a lot! But this ingrained habit allows us to discover the root cause of their issues.

Question Everyone And Everything

Many people don't differentiate between someone being smart and someone being an expert. Yes, experts are smart but smart people aren't necessarily experts. Just because you deem someone smart doesn't mean they're an expert in the topic they're sharing with you.

Once you've identified an expert, you need to know when, what, and how to question them to confirm their expertise and, more importantly, that you're receiving the right information. What's astounding is how many "experts" exist in the Learning and Development space, and why you, as a practitioner, must question everything they tell you.

First, recognize the type of "expert" you're dealing with. Categorize them into one of four groupings to decide whether the conversation should continue.

1. Fabricators

The first group is the "fabricators." These experts, when confronted, fabricate answers to save face. You've encountered these people on many occasions. They're the long talkers and/or double talkers. They deflect and offer responses so convincing that you believe they've answered your question until you realize, sometime later, that they didn't. They add little value so get rid of them.

2. Pretenders

The next group is the "pretenders." These experts roam social media and wander conference trade shows working for learning vendors. They hold job titles such as "Learning Evangelist," "Learning Guru," or "Community Manager." Many know just enough to get by, and when you seek depth of topic their reflex is to end the conversation, deflect, or feign the truth. Don't get me wrong, there are genuine experts working for vendors, however, this brings up conflict-of-interest issues. The ones with integrity disclose their vendor position. The problem is when they don't. Their advice is biased since it's colored from a vendor perspective. Question these experts; then question again.

3. "Here's What I Know" Experts

The third group is the "here's what I know" experts. They are experts who are, unfortunately, stuck in time. Just like you love the music of your youth and are resistant to new music, they're comfortable with what they know and believe their knowledge is still valid. They will discredit up-to-date experts as being out of touch, support their position with out-of-date sources, and craft responses using limited or dated knowledge. You should not only question them but always verify their sources.

4. "Challenge Me" Experts

The fourth group, and the ones offering substance, is the "challenge me" experts. They expect people to question and challenge them. If you don't, they'll provoke you to do so. These experts are typically accredited professionals who must maintain their professional development. They're exceptionally diligent in their work and with proposed solutions, transparent about how their work is done, welcome varied perspectives, and disclose all sources. These experts (the best ones) are also peered reviewed, meaning, their peers, who are equally qualified, review and fully verify their work.

Weight Of Accountability

Unlike other operational roles, those responsible for organizational learning carry the "heavy weight" of accountability. Sharing inaccurate or inappropriate knowledge can lead to adverse consequences for the organization. Additionally, learning practitioners are under tremendous scrutiny and hold fragile credibility with operational stakeholders. For this reason alone, you must always question what you're being told, even from the most credible sources.

Those who do not question either fear how others will perceive them or are willing to remain uninformed. Don't be one of these people. The word "learning" fundamentally implies discovering something you didn't know and always asking questions. Learning is also about ensuring employees receive and can apply accurate and relevant knowledge. As a learning practitioner, it's your obligation to fulfill these expectations. Your leaders expect it. Be sure to seek out the knowledge from credible experts. But be sure to apply critical thinking and analytical skills when doing so, or at the very least, question everything you hear.

Living In A New World

We're all living in a time of crisis. Learning is central to awareness so please take pride in what you do. You're essential to helping people get through tough situations and helping them solve problems. Realize your value isn't only in the learning you produce but in how you're able to deploy it effectively to everyone, especially in times like these.

I want to extend my knowledge and expertise to anyone who requires it without obligation. Should you require support, guidance, counsel, or simply just want someone to lend an ear please don't hesitate to contact me through Twitter. My handle is BizLearningDude.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!

Please be safe and please stay healthy.