Stopping: A Surprisingly Useful Skill

 The flight started off normal enough.We'd left Newark Airport right on time, and we'd been in the air for three hours.The Boeing-737 descended smoothly, and the pilot brought her in for a perfect landing.What happened next, however, was very strange.A flight attendant got on the intercom and shared this announcement:Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to New Orleans International Airport. Local time is 12:45 pm.  For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the Captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign. This will indicate that we have parked at the gate and that it is safe for you to move about.  Please check around your seat for any personal belongings you may have brought on board with you and please use caution when opening the overhead bins, as heavy articles may have shifted around during the flight.If you require deplaning assistance, please remain in your seat until all other passengers have deplaned. One of our crew members will then be pleased to assist you.On behalf of this entire Newark-based crew, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip and we are looking forward to seeing you on board again in the near future. Have a wonderful afternoon.Sounds perfectly normal, doesn't it?It should:  it's the standard post-touchdown script that you hear when a plane lands at its final destination.But this was no standard landing.Not a single passenger was deplaning in New Orleans.We were supposed to land in Houston.However, due to lightning strikes and torrential downpours, the Houston airport was completely shut down. Our plane had been diverted to New Orleans for safety and for refueling.Bad weather happens: that was outside of anyone's control.  I understand and support the need to divert an aircraft if the situation warrants it.But, the fact that the flight attendant had stuck to the usual landing script struck me as really strange. (In fact, all the passengers around me were making comments throughout it, like What is she saying? Does she know why we're here?)In retrospect, it's easy to see what happened. The flight attendant had lapsed into (excuse the pun) auto-pilot. She'd given her usual landing speech, and didn't stop to think about what was actually happening or where we were.It's a glaringly obvious example of what can happen when you don't think critically.Other common workplace examples of lack of critical thinking include:

  • Forwarding on an email thread without making sure that everything at the bottom of the email is appropriate to share.
  • Talking about confidential information on a crowded elevator.
  • Sending out a modified template document to a client that still has another client's name on it.

Depending on the situation, the impact of these mishaps can range from minor dents to major disasters.In our complex and interconnected work world, the need for critical thinking is more important than ever.According to the recently published World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report, critical thinking is ranked the #2 most important job skill that will be needed in 2020.  (Creative problem solving is #1.)There are a number of qualities that good critical thinkers possess:

  • The ability to reflect on and assess a situation.
  • To see view that situation in the proper context.
  • To understand the interconnection between the various parts.
  • To be able to predict which action will create the desired result, and which action won't.
  • To choose that next action wisely.

Why is critical thinking in seemingly short supply?The answer is a paradox: It starts by stopping.That is, the first step in the critical thinking process is to reflect: to look back and see things as they truly are. And you can't reflect without stopping.You can't reflect while constantly moving at high speed. Critical thinking comes with a price:  Time.Do you see that price as a cost?  Or an an investment?Used wisely, it's an investment that pays huge dividends. When you do think critically,  you're better able to:

  • Build empathy
  • Develop stronger, smarter relationships
  • Make better decisions
  • Avoid costly errors

Might these benefits be worth a stop every now and again?What other benefits do you gain from stopping?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.