Wellingtone’s APM Accredited PMO Leader course combines the power of Project Based Learning with the competences of reflective practice and critical thinking. Yes, we don’t want you to memorise formulas and concepts, we want you to think. And critically please!

But what does that mean exactly?, you might think (see what I did here?).

Are you a solutioniser?

Very often we go into solution-mode, that is, Problem > Solution, not taking the time to complete the most important step in between – thinking. Yet, if we don’t think, how can we even be sure that we are tackling the right problem in the first place?

Critical Thinking - Cartoon of Faces Showing Different Emotions

Figure 1 https://info.mede-care.com/blog/critical-thinking-strengthening-your-muscles

Mathematicians think in proofs, Lawyers in constructs, Logicians in operators, Dancers in movement, Artists in impressions, Marketers in niches, Entrepreneurs in problems, businessmen in margins, investors in years, and idiots in labels (from Dart Tiglao and Nassim Taleb).

Simplifications work great for our human mind – we love to put everything in boxes – yet, I believe that reality is always much more complex, full of wicked problems.

You think you know the solution, but are you certain you understand the problem? If you believe you are the chosen one who carries the answers, the holder of the single truth, who has a solution prêt-à-porter, and makes predictions as if you knew it all, full of epistemic arrogance, I have a label for you: (very likely you are a) fraud.

The purpose is not to be right, but to think right

I get it, thinking is hard. It’s not enough to think though (however, if you are thinking, that’s already a big advantage!).

One needs to be able to think critically and that is one of the key benefits I took from my MSc in Strategic Management of Projects at UCL. We were dared to question everything every time.

For me, who started my career being told that the PMBOK Guide was the “Bible” of project management, this attitude of challenging assumptions was quite provocative and scary but, at the same time, an eye-opening one. After all, assumptions exist to be tested and paradigms to be broken, that is the basis of scientific progress.

Critical thinking has roots in philosophy and if you know of Plato and Socrates, for instance, you know already that it was a very valuable competence amongst the Greeks. While it has always been a demanded competence that forms the academic and research spirit, nowadays, the emergence of the so-called fake news makes it a much-needed competence for the modern world too.

The famous “War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength” (1984, Orwell) is more relevant of discussion than ever.

In a nutshell, to think critically is to be sceptical and not to accept ideas and assumptions at their face value but instead to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Critical thinkers use their ability to reason, break down and analyse ideas in context and without biases, connect related and contrasting concepts, infer and test hypothesis, and, following, reach a critical judgement, with a clear view of what are the pros and cons, limitations and strengths, intricacies and nuances of such idea (see Bloom’s Taxonomy below).

Make no mistake: the purpose is not to be right, but to think right; not to have the right answers but to ask the right questions.

So what?

Diagram of Critical Thinking - Bloom's Taxonomy

Today I dare you to question more.

Don’t believe everything you read just because an expert wrote it or everyone is repeating it. My favourite remains that quote from Darwin about the survival of the fittest that everyone LOVES to put on presentations. I have news for you: scholars report that Darwin never wrote it

We see the same in the world of PMOs: every year a new report comes out to tell us that a key reason for PMO failure is the lack of sponsorship.

But…is it?

Could it be that the lack of sponsorship is a symptom of a PMO that is not delivering to expectations (very often because they don’t even bother to enquire what the expectations from their customers are) rather than a cause?

If you want to have a healthy and real discussion about any topic, start by asking questions and evidence.

Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument (as Desmond Tutu’s father used to tell him).

In fact, even at a personal level, that’s one of the things that I’m always amazed about: how people try to impress you with big numbers, but no context or anything of substance able to validate their claims.

Sure, you worked at a gigantic multinational (doesn’t tell me anything about how good you were at your job), you manage a portfolio of projects worth 500 million (how many of these are successful?), you have 30 years of experience in the field (you can have 30 years of experience doing the same old mistakes and not learning much) – good for you. So what?

In a way, critical thinking is exactly that: being brave to ask “so what?”.

As Napoleon Hill said (or did he?), we have a brain and mind or our own. It’s time we start using it.

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By: Marisa Silva (The Lucky PM)

Marisa Silva (The Lucky PM)
PPM specialist with extensive experience in industry with a focus on collaboration, PMO conception & strategy, method and capability development. Marisa also retains depth expertise in Microsoft PPM having led a large number of client deployments.
Categories: Training

Published: 23 October 2019

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