Both Sides Of The Coin

 A Critical Doer capitalizes on opportunities to be better


Coins have two sides.  Those two sides are diametrically opposed in a binary manner, meaning we can have heads or tails but not both.  Sometimes we lose sight that heads and tails exist on the same coin.  But isn’t it curious that we use a coin as a metaphor when we’re trying to make decisions?  We say things like “looking at both sides of the coin” when suggesting we look at a problem from different perspectives.

Professor David A. Garvin of the Harvard Business School agrees that examining a problem from multiple perspectives is essential to not just finding a solution…but finding the best solution.  Take a look at Professor Garvin’s short video on and listen to what he has to say.

The story Professor Garvin recants in the video highlights a technique many executives use in driving the thought process of a group.  I’ve used it myself and generally with good results when the team of thinkers has some history together so discussion isn’t inhibited by the “polite phase” of group dynamics.

Although I agree with the validity of the technique, here’s a different perspective on critical thinking I’d like you to consider.  The story in the video, contrary to Professor Garvin’s argument, may not in reality be the best example of critical thinking.

The American Express CEO drove a thorough examination of a single proposition…merchant transaction fees.  In exploring a single idea, this is validation…not critical thinking.  If you recall from previous posts, we talked about how to frame a question in ways that can unlock true innovation and creativity.  Rather than asking how to lower merchant transaction fees, a better question may have been how can we increase use of the American Express Card and increase profitability?  Examining the question more broadly could have produced solutions that didn’t even involve merchant transaction fees.

So what have we learned?  First, we’ve learned that asking a team of thinkers to churn through a problem from different perspectives can infuse objectivity into answering a question.  Second, we’ve learned that the best of thinking techniques will come up short if they’re not applied to the right question.

Your challenge is to find a tough situation that requires a creative solution and examine both sides of the coin…after you’ve first nailed down the true nature of the question that needs answering.  To accurately understand the metaphor, the coin as a whole is the question…the heads and tails represent possibilities.  Give it a try and you’re well on the way to turning critical thinking into critical doing.  That’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: July 27, 2015 — 9:03 am