Stop Firefighting, Start Thinking

Today's working environment is 100% VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We need critical thinking skills more than ever.

by Philippa Thomas 0 Developing yourself
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We often hear from managers that they "have no time to think". In today's hyper-kinetic, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) working environment, the pressure is on managers to come up with soutions to problems - NOW! But how on earth can they make quality evaluations and commercial decisions when they rarely have all the information or certainty that's needed? The answer lies in developing critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking enables people to look at situations from multiple perspectives, and then work out how they might respond. The ability to "think outside the box" generates ideas and solutions that improve the chances of success. One of the main reasons organisations don't embrace critical thinking is that they feel they are just too busy. The focus on day-to-day operations and finances takes priority over developing this 'soft skill'. But companies that do invest in developing this skill will see improvements in teamwork and productivity which outweigh the time invested. 

Consider your own management team for a moment and assess:

  • How efficient and effective are our current ways of team working?
  • What patterns of behaviour do you notice in team meetings – who speaks, who listens?  
  • What helps you to think effectively? 
  • What prevents you from thinking effectively?

Armed with this information, you can compare your answers against Nancy Kline's "10 Components of the Thinking Environment" framework:

  1. Attention: listening with palpable respect and genuine interest, and without interruption
  2. Equality: treating each other as thinking peers; giving equal turns and attention; keeping boundaries and agreements
  3. Appreciation: practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to challenge
  4. Encouragement: giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition
  5. Feelings: allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  6. Information: supplying the facts; recognising social context; dismantling denial
  7. Difference: welcoming diverse group identities and diversity of thinking
  8. Incisive Questions™: removing untrue assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves well
  9. Place: creating a physical environment that says back to people, ‘You matter’ [i]

You'll gain helpful insights into the critical thinking skills your management team has, and where you might need to focus your development efforts as a group and as individuals.


Kline, Nancy (2020) Time to Think, available at, accessed 4 January 2020


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