Critical Thinking and Air Conditioning

It’s 1902 and you, Willis Carrier have just been hired by Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, NY to stop their magazine pages from wrinkling and jamming while they print. Others before you have tried and failed to stop the presses from jamming, but no one has succeeded, at least not so far. In most cases, individuals have looked at the mechanisms of the printing press and the paper itself. They were attempting to problem solve the paper jam. Thinner paper, smoother gears, more grease, anything to fix the jamming paper.  But not you. You, Willis Carrier, think deeper about what is going on and you think beyond the machine and paper themselves as to what could be causing the problem in the first place. You are using ever so crucial critical thinking skills and you will not only solve the jamming issue, but because of the skills you are using, you will also invent the first modern air conditioner, changing history and the lives of society at large as we know it.

Sound dramatic? Perhaps a little. But it’s also entirely true.  Willis Carrier and the invention of the air conditioner is an incredible example of what we can accomplish when we harness the power of critical thinking verses simply problem solving. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two. Problem solving, though important is reactive and often short-sighted and focuses on solving the symptom of a bigger issue, leaving the problem to ultimately continue. Critical thinking is identifying the root of what is causing the issue and finding a solution to that larger cause. Think of problem solving as putting out a fire that’s in front of you. You see the fire, you grab the hose and extinguish it. “Great!”, you think, and move on with your day. But in short order, the same problem rears its ugly head. You rush to the fire, grab the hose, and put it out…again. Off you go – again – to get on with your day. Anyone who has fires pop up in their professional life knows this routine, an unending cycle of fires and water hoses interrupting you and stealing precious time from your day.

Now what if instead of putting out the fire and moving on, you put out the fire and paused to consider what started the fire in the first place? What if you looked critically at the fire, searched for clues around the scene and gathered the evidence as to the cause? And what if, upon discovering the source of ignition, you put measures into place to prevent the fire from happening again? This time, upon leaving the fire, you might just find that the fire stays out. This is the power of critical thinking. Carrier could have taken the problem-solving path that of many others before him: try to fix the machine to stop the paper from jamming. But when he took a step back, thought more broadly and critically thought about what was truly causing the paper to jam, he was able to identify the root cause more effectively. The machine wasn’t the issue, the humidity was!

We love to share our Critical Thinking training across the country as it allows us to help organizations finally solve the repetitive problems that exist in their businesses, stealing so much time, energy, and effort from their team members. If you find yourself putting out the same fires repeatedly, perhaps it’s time to stop firefighting and dig into the kindling at the root of the problem. Or reach out to us at Bluewater to assist in arming your team with the knowledge and skills to turn a paper jam into an invention of air conditioning of your own!

Lindsey Weigle,
Managing Partner

Categories: Business Excellence, Professional Development, and Talent Management.