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The Continued Need for Critical Thinking

By Stu Davis, CIO, State of Ohio

Stu Davis, CIO, State of Ohio

As CIOs, strategic and critical thinking is constantly challenged by the day to day issues of supporting enterprise business needs and creating a sense of urgency around key initiatives that position us for the future. The definition of critical thinking for me is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. As a CIO, it became clear that if we don’t carve out time to do this we will be consumed by the affairs of the day. It became even more apparent to me last year that establishing a time for critical thinking as a daily practice is the best practice for successful CIOs.

“Rethinking pain points and boiling issues down to their true source results in streamlined and efficient future services

About a year ago at a National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) conference, I was fortunate enough to facilitate an open interview on stage with three private sector CIOs and talk about the differences between the private and public sector. I must admit I was surprised at the similarities of the drivers and challenges we have to work through on a day to day basis. As a NASCIO member, I understood that public sector CIOs were all facing the similar challenges and working within similar parameters but for some reason, I thought it would be different in the private sector. Perhaps it is human nature to think our situations are special and unique but it was refreshing to know these challenges transcend the sectors we work in and the collective knowledge on approaches was larger than I imagined.

There were two major takeaways from this interview session and both were associated with time:

1) Block out time for critical thinking

2) Take the time to celebrate your wins.

Daylight is burning for all initiatives but we have to be able to adjust and modify our approaches as unforeseen challenges—and when they do happen—present   themselves. It is important to take the time to remember the larger perspective and reflect on where we are trying to go and the best pathways to get us there. All of this begins with critical thinking. I have taken this advice to heart and suggest it as a basic practice for all IT professionals. Understanding where we are and where we are headed is an everyday exercise, all the while keeping the bigger picture in perspective. The uninterrupted time dedicated to innovative ideas and approaches to current issues is the foundation for new solutions. Rather than focusing on firefighting the daily issues, we can focus on the necessary strategies and planning to prevent the fires from happening in the first place. Rethinking pain points and boiling issues down to their true source results in streamlined and efficient future services.

My time for critical thinking is between when I arrive in the wee hours of the morning and my first meeting. I jealously guard this time to review and reflect on the efforts we have going on in Ohio. Shut the door. Think, and as my Dad told me—use your head for something other than a hat rack!

This also tracks back to the second takeaway—celebrating your wins. I personally am not very good at this and tend to press on past the accomplishment to the next milestone to reach the overall goal. I am truly a work in progress. However, it is a good thing to take a moment outside of our chaotic day and remember all that is being accomplished while we continue to push forward on numerous fronts.

Emphasizing and recognizing these wins and the individuals and groups that made it possible motivates and mobilizes others to step up and deliver. Great things can be accomplished by small teams of highly motivated and enabled individuals.

There is a Chinese proverb that states a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a step. Dedicate time to think through, plan, evaluate, modify and adopt approaches based upon critical thinking but always with an eye on the future which will pay future dividends.

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