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Critical Thinking Tools: RELEVANCE

What is the relevance?

Now that we are thinking clearly, precisely, and accurately, we must ask ourselves, “Is this relevant?”

critical thinking relevance

A funny illustration of this point is found in the movie, “Kindergarten Cop”.  Arnold is teaching the class and says something to the effect of, “Today, children, we are going to learn the alphabet.”  Little Billy raises his hand.  “Yes, Billy. What is it?”

Billy announces proudly, “My Daddy’s a Fireman!”

That’s great kid, we all thank your dad for his service, but NOT RELEVANT to the issue at hand.

I used to see this type of thing all the time when I was a street cop.  I would catch some cat dealing crack and he would tell me about how the guy across the street how was selling crack too. Why didn’t I go arrest that guy instead?  NOT RELEVANT.

I’ve seen it during break-ups of boyfriend and girlfriend.  Boy gets caught cheating and he brings up the issue of her family members never liking him.  NOT RELEVANT.

I’ve seen it when I had rental properties.

“You guys are 2 months late on the rent and you haven’t cut the grass all summer and the city sent me a citation.”

“Well, the cable company is charging more for the basic package, so we couldn’t buy a lawn mower or pay rent.”  NOT RELEVANT.


So I don’t inflame already emotional thinkers, I don’t say, “NOT RELEVANT”.  Instead I ask a series of questions:

How does that help us with the issue at hand?

How is this idea connected to the question?

How does that bear on the discussion?

How does this idea relate to that?

How does your question or statement pertain to what we are dealing with?


Usually irrelevant ideas come into the conversation from either misunderstanding the issues (Little Billy), or as misdirection from owning bad behavior (the boyfriend).

Boo Yah!!

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Critical Thinking Tools: PRECISION

Once we begin to use clarity in our thinking and communication, we should pull out the tool called PRECISION.  I’ve been guilty of not using this tool,  all of the time.  In that very statement, “I’ve been guilty of not using  this tool,  all of the time,” there is clarity of thought, in the idea I am trying to convey, but it lacks precision.  Using terms like “always, never, all of the time,” etc. are lacking in precision.



I remember in high school, a friend of mine had just started dating his girlfriend, and she was having a really bad day.  He asked her, “What’s wrong?” She replied, “EVERYTHING!”  (I’ve said the same thing on occasion, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed.) My friend asked her, “What can I do to help?” She replied, “NOTHING!”

Man Down! Yikes!

Today, let’s be on the lookout for whenever we, ourselves, use imprecise language and imprecise thinking that causes it.  It’s also fun to look for it in others as well, just don’t be the “precision police”.  Our purpose is to be practicing our own thinking skills.  Whenever you identify imprecision, ask these questions to help become more precise in your thinking:

Could I provide more details? (“Everything” suddenly becomes only one or two things.)

Could I be more specific?  (“Always” suddenly becomes once a week, “I always wash the dishes” – “I wash the dishes once a week”.)

Could I be more exact? (“I haven’t eaten anything all day” becomes 1500 calories of sodas and snacks.)

I have found that writing things down really helps me with precision.  I used to keep a running log when I was training for marathons.  Without it, over the course of a month, I would have had no way to be precise with my training plan, I just knew that I ran “all the time” and “everyday”.   Precision also helps keep down the late fees on the bills, and overdraft fees on the bank account too, just saying.

Boo Yah!!

Critical Thinking Tools: CLARITY

The very first tool I use in my thinking is clarity.  Most of us have a difficult time with communicating clearly, but that is a symptom of not thinking clearly.  I used to watch the sitcom “Seinfeld” all the time.  One episode I remember is a pretty good illustration of “muddying the water” in communication and thinking.  It was the “Yada, yada, yada,” episode, in which George’s girlfriend would answer a question like, “Where did you get that nice watch?” with an unclear answer.  She would respond with, “Oh, I saw in the jewelry store and yada, yada, yada, and now I have it.”

critical thinking tools clarity

George was unclear what that meant.  Did she buy the watch or did she steal the watch?  His angst rose to a new level when he asked her about how she came about to be eating breakfast with an old boyfriend.  The answer included “We met at a club, Yada yada yada, and we had breakfast.”   Yikes!

Listen to yourself today, and listen to others around you.  How often is our communication and our thoughts behind the communication unclear.  I have been guilty of using the classic, “you know” when I’m having a conversation.  What does that mean? Or when someone says, “So and So is a good employee, or good neighbor.”  What does “good” mean? Are they nice, on time, considerate, always pick up any trash laying around?  Or when someone says, “The Boss is a jerk.” How? Because she held you accountable for you actions? Did she deny your vacation request?

When you run into unclear ideas, like “yada, yada, yada”, or “he’s a jerk”, or “she’s a good employee”, ask these questions to get clarity:


Could you (or I) elaborate on that? (George’s girlfriend obtaining the watch, “Could you elaborate on how the watch came into your possession?)

Could you (or I) express this in another way?  (She’s a considerate neighbor, always picking up any trash, instead of “she’s a good neighbor”.)

Could you (or I) give an illustration? (The classic Good Samaritan story is an illustration of a considerate neighbor.)

Could you  (or I) give an example? (The Boss is a jerk, let me give you an example, the other day she belittled John in front of everybody for even asking for time off to see his daughter graduate Kindergarten.)


It does take quite a bit of effort to clarify your thoughts and your communication, but it’s well worth it.  Others around you, may look at you like you are weird, but getting and giving clear ideas, especially in business and in relationships, pays huge dividends.

Boo Yah!

Critical Thinking 101

Let’s look at some basics of critical thinking.  When you hear the term, “critical thinking”, it doesn’t mean that we are judging someone or being negative.  Critical thinking means that we use reflective reasoning about our beliefs, attitudes, and actions.  It comes from Socrates and is based in his method of thinking, known as the Socratic Method.

critical thinking 101


As I’m getting older and becoming more aware of the fundamentals of my thinking, I am really putting my mouth in low gear before speaking.  I noticed that as I utilize the tools of critical thinking, and become more skillful with those tools, I have significantly reduced the occurrences of drama in my life.   Oh, I still consider myself a novice at using the tools, but I have been getting great results.  Once I started looking at “THINKING” like a sport, it became easy.  My sons are on the wrestling team at their schools, one is Varsity this year for his high school and the other is on the middle school team.  They come home from practice with sheets of moves and counter-moves, techniques, and tools to use during a match.  Their results are directly related to how well they know the moves and how skillful they are in executing the moves in real time, which they call, “going live”.

I view thinking the same way they view wrestling.  To get good at it, they have to work on conditioning, techniques, skills, execution, and they practice these things for hours every week in preparation for “going live”.

That’s great, Andrew, but what are the moves, techniques, and tools for the sport of thinking?  How can I practice if I don’t even know what to do or where to start?  Glad you asked.  My boys didn’t just jump on the mat with no instruction. They have coaches and fellow athletes who are more seasoned and further along to help them learn what to do and where to start.  Subscribe to the newsletter, email or call me, I’ll help you.  Dial into the blog, we’ll camp out on this subject for awhile.

Boo Yah!!

Life on All 8-Cylinders – Professional Health

“If you will spend an extra hour each day of study in your chosen field, you will be a national expert in that field in five years or less.”

Earl Nightingale


If you want your “Professional Cylinder” firing-off with maximum horsepower, you must show yourself to be competent.   Take a look around, legitimately competent performers are extremely rare.  (How many customer service calls to your cable or cell phone provider were filled with awesomeness? Or how many times has the order at the drive-through gotten messed up? Not to mention the clowns at work, you know the ones….don’t point!)

If you just show up on time, don’t call in sick, and have a half-decent attitude, you have already made it into the top 20% of the professional world.  If you want to be at the top of your field, here’s the secret: hit the off-button on the remote, begin reading and studying for one hour every day.  If you find it boring to study in your chosen field, it’s time to change fields.

What do you think about when you don’t have to think about anything? What do you think about when you’re driving home, going for a stroll, laying out at the pool, or while you’re in the shower?  Go study that thing grabs your interest.  You might be surprised to find that one hour turns into two, or three, and after 5 years, you’ll be getting calls from head-hunters, the media, and new clients.

Focus for one hour each day on activities that increase your competency.  Of course, if you hate your job, you’ll be spending every waking hour trying to distract yourself from the misery your professional life is.  If that describes you, time to take an honest assessment, write out a vision of what you want your life to be, and then make the decision to go for it.

Boo yah!

Render Unto Caesar

“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.”

Loretta Young


Part of my execution formula is that “I am in the driver seat”.  In other words, I am the Caesar of my life.  This removes all excuses, if I am experiencing a problem – I am the problem.  I am also the solution to any and all problems I experience, as well.  From the desk of President Truman, “The buck stops here.”

Over the years of coaching folks, I have come across more than a few perfectionist type personalities, (my former self included).  Of course, it is these Type-A personalities that gravitate toward the elite levels of business, athletics, and the ranks of professional warriors.

The downside to being a perfectionist, is that when you actually do something perfectly, you chalk it up to merely meeting your personal expectations.  When you do something very well, but maybe not perfectly, you rebuke yourself for not meeting your personal expectations. If you think you didn’t do well at all, you castigate yourself.  The problem here is that you never end up being happy with your performance or giving yourself credit for working hard.  It’s a downward spiral into a life of disappointment, eventually leading to disengagement and fatigue.

The solution is to always render unto Caesar, his or her due.  Give yourself credit for working hard, when you work hard.  Give yourself a mental pat on the back when you perform well, but not quite perfectly.  And when that moment comes that you perform perfectly, congratulate Caesar on a job well done.  You don’t have to make a show of it, but at least down on the inside give yourself some credit.  This creates an upward spiral of encouragement to continue striving to achieve set goals, and the drive to reach for new ones.

Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar – credit for hard work and job well done.

Boo Yah!


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

 John Wooden

 Short Fuse


Whenever I find myself (or more accurately, my wife and kids find me), irritable and short-fused, I can almost always trace it back to knowing I didn’t do my best at something.  I’m irritated with myself, but it usually bleeds over into the surrounding area(s)….collateral damage, so to speak.  For the longest time, when my family would ask what was wrong with me, I would honestly answer that I didn’t know.

Earlier, I wrote about my ongoing journey to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses.  I still don’t know if this is a strength or a weakness, but I’ve learned enough about myself to begin to understand the root cause of the short-fuse.  As my oldest son used to say when he was a toddler, “It’s my fault!”

When I find myself getting really torqued at the world, I now know to stop and look at my recent past performance.  It doesn’t take too long to pinpoint the culprit.  It usually involves laziness or complacency in my efforts to achieve one of my goals.  I tried to be a nicer person by simply removing having any goals, and therefore removing the pressure to perform….that made matters even worse.   As Coach Wooden stated above, peace of mind is directly related to one’s best efforts.

Once I know, deep down, that I have done all that I possibly can, I stand confidently, I have done my very best.  Win, lose, or draw, I am at peace, knowing full well my efforts were worthy of my own respect.  Win, lose, or draw, I’m still going to do an after action report to assess what I could have done better, and lessons learned, but at least I can respect myself.

If you find yourself on the short-fused end of things, a good place to check under the hood is your level of effort moving toward your goals.  (If you have no goals, direct your best efforts in coming up with some.)

Boo Yah!

Walking Life’s High Wire

“The more you sweat in training, the less you’ll bleed in battle.”

Warrior’s Proverb

 walking the high wire

Performing to a standard, regardless of environment, circumstances, or the stakes, is paramount to being successful, in any endeavor.  I watched that crazy high-wire guy, walk across the Grand Canyon.  And true to the American way, the coverage started hours before hand, in order to squeeze as much advertising dollars out of the stunt.  During the lead in, the cameras followed the guy in the months leading to the event.  He was training for the event near his home, on a wire that was barely a few feet off the ground.

He was asked just prior to stepping out on the Grand Canyon wire, what he would be thinking about during the feat.  He said, “During training, at home, I was over the Grand Canyon in my mind.  Today, in my mind, I’ll be training at home.”

Nick Saban, the head coach for the Alabama football team, has been known to lay a 2”x4” length of board on the floor in the locker room, and have the team walk across it.  The team, of course, does it easily.  Then Coach Saban asks, “How easy would it be to walk across the board if it was connecting two skyscrapers?”

Nick goes on to tell the team, it should be just as easy.  The only thing that would make it harder would be thinking about failing, instead of thinking about the process of doing what you did when the board was on the floor.

The more you concentrate and focus on performing to a standard (Hint: Excellence) during practice, training, and preparation time, the easier it will be to execute flawlessly during crunch time, when the stakes are high, and falling means death.

Boo yah!