Facilitating Creative and Critical Thinking

–to help people develop innovative solutions to their problems, that will be readily accepted and implemented efficiently

I had a delightful mentor ask me recently what my Career Niche Value Statement was. A Career Niche Value Statement is basically your purpose statement and what is your why, behind what you do, which is ultimately the value that you deliver. I initially had no idea, because I’d never really thought about it. But I really should have, because if you’re not adding value to a business, you shouldn’t be there. So I set out to find my Niche Value Statement by writing about it. I started out by exploring ‘Facilitating Critical Thinking’ as my Niche Value Statement, as I’d identified this as a core skill whilst I wrote my autobiography. However, during my writing journey, I discovered that my Niche Value Statement is actually much broader than facilitating critical thinking. I had never critically thought about what I did, that delivered value. Don’t think the irony of those statements isn’t lost on me. LOL!

So let’s talk about my Niche Value Statement. Throughout my career, I’ve facilitated critical and creative thinking to help people develop innovative solutions to their problems. I got lucky and learnt how to facilitate critical and creative thinking early in my career, during my time as a Lean Manufacturing facilitator at Boeing, I then went on to apply this problem-solving approach in many different jobs including, process improvement, quality management, reliability engineering, competitor intelligence, and strategy development; across the defence, aerospace, space, and ICT industries. With this problem-solving approach, I have helped people design innovative solutions for; more efficient manufacturing lines and business processes; more competitive bids and proposals; more reliable and efficient products; and successful business expansion strategies.

The need for creative and critical thinking stems from the fact that we all have a way of thinking and living our life, based on our current beliefs, values, and capabilities. It’s important that understand what these are, and follow them, because it helps us to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

But our world is constantly changing and if we want to continue living our best lives, then we need to change with it because if don’t, it will leave us behind. We are all hit with situations, where the way we live our lives causes problems and we have to change how we live our lives. Therefore, if we critically think about our current situation and identify what’s not working for us, this then allows us to think creatively about how we can improve aspects of our lives that are no longer working for us. By doing this we will be rewarded by continuing to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Therefore you should always be open to change.

This happened to me after my cancer journey. The cognitive impairment I suffered during my journey resulted in me being unable to do the wide thinking needed to develop strategies in the space industry. I deeply loved developing strategies, especially in the space industry. But my world had changed and by sitting down and critically thinking about how it had changed, it helped me to accept that I also had to change. So I launched into some creative thinking and sought advice from people I respected, who introduced some new thinking, that I should reach back into my experience and consider jobs that I knew really well, that didn’t need the wide thinking skills that I currently lacked, such as Quality Management and Training. This process reminded me that I hadn’t walked away from these jobs because I didn’t enjoy doing them. I had simply pursued new opportunities. This gave me the confidence to pursue them and resulted in me still living a happy and fulfilling life.

This applies equally in the business world. Businesses operate in specific ways, as it may have been very successful for them in the past. But the world changes and what worked for them previously may no longer work in the new world. So they have to change as well.

To enable change we need people to accept new ideas, theories, and ways of life.

Change is hard, but change is easier if you have someone to facilitate you through a problem-solving workshop, that facilitates critical and creative thinking for you, which enables you to accept new ideas, theories, and ways of life to develop innovative solutions to your issues.

Because you know your issues best, and you’re best placed to determine if new solutions will work.

So when I’m facilitating critical and creative thinking, I don’t stand up in front of a workshop and tell people how to fix their problems, I facilitate critical thinking about their current situation and issues that need solutions so that everyone understands them well. I then facilitate creative thinking so they can think outside the box and develop innovative solutions to their own problems. I then help them critically examine which solutions would work best for them. This allows people to embrace their own solutions, and drive their implementation and success, whereas they’re more likely to reject solutions forced upon them. So this is a key strategy for successful change management.

I learnt the key foundational skills to be a successful problem-solving facilitator, as a child. I was so lucky that my parents thought their children were the future. Through critical thinking, they taught me to fully understand what my beliefs, values, and capabilities were. This gave me a sense of pride and the humility to accept who I was at that moment, to not have self-inflated views of myself. If I had an overinflated view of my capabilities, I wasn’t going to put effort into improving them. They then let me lead the way so that when I identified that my beliefs values, and capabilities needed to change, they facilitated the creative thinking that helped me set goals for improvement. They then facilitated critical thinking for me to identify impediments to that improvement, then facilitated creative thinking for me to develop strategies to work around those impediments to reach my goals.

All of these things my parents did for me, helped established a strong foundation for me to facilitate critical and creative thinking that helped other people develop innovative solutions to their problems. Please let me explain how.

Effective problem solving is a multi-phased process, that requires you to facilitate both creative and critical thinking. Phase 1 starts by taking the time to understand the current environment, by researching and gathering facts and data about a situation, to explore in detail what problems people are trying to solve. For example, in Lean Manufacturing I’d gather; statistics about how long a process takes; customer feedback; errors that are occurring; etc. In Competitor Intelligence, I’d gather; evidence about competitors’ capabilities; market trends; the customers’ key decision criteria; etc.

I then present this data and analysis in a workshop setting and ask clarifying questions to ensure you develop a good understanding of people’s environment and the issues they are experiencing. Some examples of clarifying questions include. “Did I hear you correctly when you said….?”, or “What type of criteria did you use to assess that?”. This also develops trust between the facilitator and the workshop participants, because you work hard to understand them. Then ask probing questions to get to the root cause of the issues being experienced. Probing questions are typically open-ended and designed to promote deeper thinking about a topic. Some examples include. “What are the pros and cons of the situation?”, or “what do you think is the root of the problem?”. The trustworthy environment that has been developed; then fosters a good understanding of the environment and issues that need attention through open and honest communications; which leads to better solutions more efficiently in later phases. This phase facilitates critical thinking about their current situation, to exploring their environment and the issues that need solving in detail. Because you can’t solve a problem until you succinctly understand it.

In Phase 2, I facilitate creative thinking, to help them create solutions to their problems. Creative thinking is the ability to think about something in a new way. To think outside the norms you are used to. To challenge your existing assumptions. I do this by inviting workshop attendees from other areas of a business, and highly respected guest speakers, to introduce new ideas and ways of thinking. You can also use global standards or best practice to challenge people to improve. During the workshop, I’ll also run brainstorming sessions with post-it notes, by focusing on each specific problem that needs solving and asking for people’s ideas. You then group together ideas into common solution themes. Each of these solution themes is then critically examined, whilst asking probing questions to determine its value to solving the initial set of issues, and further refining a solution. Then rank the solutions using critical thinking to assess the best solution.

Successful change management is derived during these problem-solving workshops, by presenting facts and data about a process, which helps people have the humility to accept their current level of performance. This also gives them the desire to improve it, so when highly respected guest speakers introduce new ideas they’re more likely to embrace them because people are more likely to accept new ideas and ways of doing things if they respect the person who is suggesting it. Asking probing questions then furthers this desire to improve, whilst generating new ideas.

Therefore, my Niche Value Statement is “facilitating critical and creative thinking, to help people design innovative solutions to their problems, that will be readily accepted and implemented efficiently”


Dane McCormack
Dane McCormack
Dane McCormack was born and raised in Tasmania. He escaped to the mainland to pursue his career and has worked as a Business Transformation specialist for several of the world’s biggest companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and KPMG. His love of writing was reawakened as he explored how he survived and thrived through a recent cancer journey. After being given 24hours to live several times and losing his long-term memories, he set out on a mighty quest to find them and wrote his autobiography. It emphasised just how important history is because it made him who he was, which helped him survive and thrive. It left him determined to leave a legacy for his family. He’s now sharing his stories, to help others dealing with tough times and develop their careers. He is also exploring his family and friends’ history in more detail.

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