Critical thinking is a key IT skill, but what is it?

Critical thinking is a key IT skill, but what is it?
Image Credit: Brian Hillegas

As an IT manager, you’d really like use your IT manager skills to have the best possible team working for you. Where things can get a bit tricky is when we try to define just exactly what we mean by “the best possible team”. If you take a look at a modern IT job posting, there is a very good chance that you are going to run across the phrase “must have good critical thinking skills”. That sounds great, but what are we really looking for when we say that?

Just Exactly What Is “Critical Thinking”?

“Critical Thinking” is one of those phrases that we all think that we know what it means, but in reality it turns out that we all have a slightly different view of it. Just talk to any IT manager and you’ll discover that based on our IT manager training we all define it differently. One of the best definitions that captures what I think that critical thinking is states that it “… occurs when you form an opinion based on information that you’ve collected from a number of different sources.”

What we are really looking for when we say that we want team members who have good critical thinking skills are people who are good at solving problems. We are looking for people who once they’ve collected the information that is available, can “connect the dots”. If we’re not clear about what kind of thinking we’re looking for, we run the risk of confusing our teams. They won’t know if they are supposed to follow the rules or break them.

One of the challenges that we all have is that we struggle to define just exactly what critical thinking is. However, we believe that we know it when we see it. What we want to see is team members who are able to transform book knowledge into problem solving that they can use in the workplace.

How Can IT Managers Tell If Someone Is A Good Critical Thinker?

Determining if someone who wants to join our team is a good critical thinker can be a real challenge for an IT manager. One way to start to make this determination is to ask them questions such as “… tell me about a time that you worked with a difficult person and how you handled that.”

So just exactly what kind of skills are we looking for? What I believe that we all want are team members who have the ability to work with data. To accumulate the data, analyze it, and then synthesize it. Their goal must be to be able to make both smart decisions and assessments that are balanced.

As IT managers we need to be careful when we go looking for critical thinkers. Yes, we do want some of these to be on our team. However, critical thinkers tend to be the ones who challenge the status quo. What we are really looking for are workers who have good problem solving skills. A balance between these two groups will give us the best IT team possible.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

In order to build the best IT team possible, we’ve got to get the people who can solve problems on our team. One way that we can measure someone’s ability to solve problems is by determining if they have critical thinking skills. However, just exactly what we mean by that is often an open question.

Critical thinking has a lot to do with having the ability to make the right decisions. We expect someone who has critical thinking abilities to take in information from a number of different sources and then form their own opinion. When we are trying to determine if someone has good critical thinking skills, we can often ask them how they went about solving problems that they faced in the past.

There is no doubt that critical thinking is a key skill that every IT manager wants each member of his or her team to have as we work on our IT team building. The challenge that we all face is trying to define just exactly what we mean when we say critical thinking. Taking the time to find out how someone goes about solving problems can reveal to us how much critical thinking they are capable of doing.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a test that you could give to a team member in order to measure their critical thinking ability?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

It turns out that there is an awful lot of data out there in the world. Some studies have shown that collectively we generate another 2.5 quintillion bytes (it’s got 30 zeros) of new data every single day and this is forecasted to double every year up to 2020. Now your company might not be producing quite that much data every day, but you are probably generating your fair share. As an IT manager, it’s going to be your responsibility to use your IT manager skills and understand what having all of this data on hand really means and you are going to have to come up with something to do with all of it.

{ 0 comments }

Security is tricky stuff, you need to be clear when you talk about it

Security is tricky stuff, you need to be clear when you talk about it
Image Credit: David Goehring

IT managers have discovered that security in all of its different forms, application, network, etc., has become a part of every project that we work on. This security stuff is complex and it seems to be constantly changing. What this means is that on top of securing our company and its IT assets, we have another job that requires our IT manager skills: keeping everyone else informed about what’s going on in the world of IT security.

Clarity Is King

One of the big problems that IT managers run into is that we can’t solve security problems by ourselves no matter how much IT manager training we’ve had. No matter if there is an outside threat to the company that we are responding to or if we’re creating a new web application that is going to have to be hardened to protect the customer data that it will be holding, we’re going to need to interact with the company’s senior management.

Where we run into problems is that the language that we use with our peers to talk about security related issues is quite complex. It’s filled with IT security jargon and lots of acronyms. There is no way that non-technical people are going to be able to understand what we are talking about. What this means is that it is our responsibility to change how we talk about this stuff. We need to start to clearly communicate what is going on and what we are doing about it.

If we’re able to get our senior management to understand what is going on, then they’ll be able to wrap their heads around the issue and make informed decisions. As important as a security issue may be to us, we always need to keep in mind that at any point in time there are other things going on in the company. This means that our management is going to have to prioritize this issue against everything else…

Know Your Threats

In order to effectively interact with the rest of the company, as an IT manager you are going to have to be able to clearly communicate what the different types of threats look like. If the rest of the company doesn’t know what they are up against, then they’ll never know what the proper reaction should be.

Where things start to get interesting is when you spend some time trying to educate the rest of the company about what their primary security threat looks like. Although most people may picture a Russian hacker dressed head-to-toe in black as being the company’s biggest threat, that simply is not the case. You’re going to have to be able to let your management know that their biggest threat is the insider who isn’t trying to do any thing wrong and somehow ends up exposing sensitive data.

The reason that you need to take the time to clearly communicate what is going on in regards to security to your management is that you need their buy-in. There are specific things that you are going to want them to authorize you to do, and they’re not going to be able to give you the permissions that you need if they don’t understand what is going on. We need to keep in mind the fact that if our management is faced with a situation that they don’t understand, their instinctive reaction will be to simply say “no, don’t do anything”.

What All Of This Means For You

As IT managers we have the responsibility to make sure that each project that we work on is properly secured. In order to make sure that this happens, we are going to have to become well versed in communicating with the rest of the company about security issues.

Typically, within IT circles, we use a great deal of confusing tech jargon and acronyms when we are talking about security measures and threats. We need to stop doing this. Instead, we need to describe what kind of threats we are facing and what we’re doing about them in clear, easy to understand, terms. Taking the time to do some IT team building and educate the rest of the company about what we’re up against will allow them to prioritize what our response to them needs to be.

On top of all of the technical things that we are asked to do as IT managers, we have an additional job when it comes to security: communication. This stuff can be so complex that we are the ones who are required to make sense of it and let everyone else know what needs to be done. Take the time to educate your management and your company will be able to keep itself safe.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What words should you not use when talking to people about security issues?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As an IT manager, you’d really like use your IT manager skills to have the best possible team working for you. Where things can get a bit tricky is when we try to define just exactly what we mean by “the best possible team”. If you take a look at a modern IT job posting, there is a very good chance that you are going to run across the phrase “must have good critical thinking skills”. That sounds great, but what are we really looking for when we say that?

{ 0 comments }

How IT Managers Can Do A Better Job Of Team Building

August 13, 2015

The job of every IT manager is to find ways to use your IT manager skills to get the most productive work out of your team. However, your team is made up of a group of very diverse individuals – they really don’t have a lot to do with each other. What this means is […]

Read the full article →

Do You Know How To Say “No”?

August 6, 2015

If I asked you based on your IT manager training what the most powerful thing that you could say as a part of your job, what would you tell me? “You’re fired?” “You’re hired?” Both of those would be good guesses, but they would be wrong. It turns out that the most powerful thing than […]

Read the full article →

Do You Know What Your Team Is Telling The World?

July 30, 2015

Would it be fair to say that what your IT team is working on is top secret? In most cases the answer to this question would be probably be no. However, the companies that your company competes with would probably like to know what your team is doing and what business problems you are trying […]

Read the full article →

How IT Managers Can Use Charity To Recruit The Best Workers

July 23, 2015

When the unemployment numbers dip down, it can become a lot harder for an IT manager use his or her IT manager skills to find the right people to staff his or her team with. The pool of candidates is just a lot smaller – and there are a lot of other companies that they […]

Read the full article →

How To Poach Talent (In A Nice Way)

July 16, 2015

As an IT manager, one of your required IT manager skills is to build the best team possible. Often times you’ll discover the perfect person to add to your team. However, that person already has a job. Perhaps they already have a really good job. If you are going to want to have any hope […]

Read the full article →

Why Bored IT Managers Make Bad Decisions

July 9, 2015

Being an IT manager can be an exciting job. There are a lot of different challenges that we need to tackle: staffing, managing, problem solving, interacting with other departments, boosting our IT manager skills, etc. However, in everyone’s IT manager career there comes a point-in-time that it starts to feel like we’ve got just about […]

Read the full article →

Why IT Managers Need To Learn To Love PowerPoint

June 25, 2015

You may not have been told this when you accepted your IT manager position, but a big part of your job has to do with using your IT manager skills to master the art of communication. No matter if it’s communicating with your team, with other teams, or even other departments in the company, part […]

Read the full article →

Could It Be That Great IT Managers Are Really Great Storytellers?

June 18, 2015

As an IT manager you have a tough job to try to accomplish and that’s why you need so many different IT manager skills. You’ve got a team of highly skilled professionals on your team who really could be working for just about any company. It’s going to be your job to provide them with […]

Read the full article →