ARI Leadership Products
Guidelines for Leaders to Consider When Making
The leader who would become a competent tactician
must first close his mind to the alluring formulae
that well-meaning people offer in the name of victory.
To master his difficult art he must learn to cut to
the heart of the situation, recognize its decisive
elements and base his course of action on these. The
ability to do this is not God-given, nor can it be
acquired overnight; it is a process of years. He must
realize that training in solving problems of all types,
long practice in making clear, unequivocal decisions,
the habit of concentrating on the question at hand,
and an elasticity of mind, are indispensable requisites
for the successful practice of the art of war.
---- COL George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle (1934)
Improving practical thinking. Practical
thinking captures the strengths of how we think
for everyday problems, calling on experience more
than formal models. Practical thinking includes
creative and critical elements. Creative thinking
techniques help to generate new information. Critical
thinking brings out differences that would normally
not be obvious Both types of thinking help to
fill in gaps in knowledge and resolve uncertainty.
Signs of a practical thinker include a willingness
to try alternate approaches to thinking, being
open to others positions, being prepared
to think about issues instead of ignoring or dismissing
them, and asking insightful questions.
Applying guidelines. There is no perfect
set of guidelines for success; to improve requires
self-reflection and hard work to adopt new habits.
Making ones thinking habits more deliberate
will prompt self-reflection and through practice
eventually should make the improved thinking less
effortful. Improved thinking strategies will create
greater self-confidence, making it more likely
that challenges will be addressed than ignoring
Moving thinking upstream. Thinking ahead
and predicting potential ways that a situation
assessment may be wrong or that a course of action
could depart from whats anticipated will
make one better prepared to handle the unknown.
Having identified and thought about various contingencies
will better prepare one for various future events.
Finding hidden assumptions. Coming up
with reasons against a preferred conclusion or
option instead of in favor of that conclusion
or option will improve thoroughness of reasoning
and give one a basis for contingencies that may
Keeping track of unexpected events. A
natural tendency is to discount information when
it does not fit into our expectations. Over time
accumulated unexpected information can cause one
to shift ones understanding of a situation.
The first step in this direction is to pay special
attention to information that does not fit into
Thinking from varied perspectives. Looking
at problems from different perspectives can improve
ones understanding of a situation, solution
goals, and available options. Taking multiple
perspectives helps to understand situations, find
new or creative solutions, and reason about solutions.
Any shortcoming or restriction in ones perspective
is a possible source of problems in reasoning.
Problem solvers can adopt different perspectives
by taking on the role of another (e.g., the enemy,
adjacent unit commander), using new/different
frames of reference, shifting attention or importance
about various problem elements, reversing the
goal, etc. These require an openness of mind to
be willing to apply a different perspective and
practice in flexibility at shifting perspectives.
Applying practical reasoning. There are
different ways to improve ones reasoning ability.
One way is to have a standard set of questions to
ask oneself when faced with uncertainty, when there
is an over-willingness to accept what is heard,
or when there is a lack of critical thinking. One
set of questions is the following:
- What if? (e.g., what if this assessment were
not the case?)
- What else? (e.g., what else could be happening?)
- So what? (e.g., is there a practical difference?)
- What specifics? (e.g., can claims be confirmed
with specific information?)
- Is there a weak link? (e.g., are there any inconsistencies
- What is unexpected? (e.g., is there incomplete
or poor reasoning?)
Adapting to the situation. By increasing
the awareness of ones own thinking, mental
capabilities can be allocated to the problems at
hand. One needs to learn how he or she thinks, the
patterns and strategies that are used and that have
developed naturally throughout ones life.
Being better in touch with these can give one what
is needed to increase the chances for successful
problem resolution. To guide thinking we should
think deliberately about how to solve problems and
decide. This process is similar to decision triage.
Use the GO-FITE-WIN questions to remind how to plan
- What are Goals and Obstacles of thinking?
- How Familiar is the situation?
- How Important is it?
- How much Time is available?
- How much Effort is required for an acceptable
level of effort?
- What's Important Now?