Do you challenge enough? Are you thinking deeply or just accepting what you are told? We are taught NOT to think, we need to jettison this.

“Are You Breathing?” (And Other 'Mad' Questions)

If you were told you were not breathing – you’d think the person was mad because if you weren’t breathing you’d be dead. But anyone who has done deep, meditative breathing – long, deep breaths held and then exhaled – will know that most of our breathing is shallow.

Deep breathing changes your metabolic rate, improves your health and has a myriad of other benefits. Yet, we continue to shallow breath. Indeed, deep breathing is probably not possible all of the time – but is highly beneficial when done regularly.

The same comments apply to thinking. Of course you think every day – but how deeply?

Trained not to think

We are trained by the education system to ‘learn’ not think. We learn what we are told and then accept and apply it. What we don’t do often enough is what I’ll call, ‘deep thinking’ – or as it is more commonly called, ‘challenging’.

When my sons were at University it was made quite clear to them that the only way to pass the exams was to regurgitate what the lecturers had said – not to challenge it.

We are trained to accept what we are told – even when the evidence contradicts it.

For example, in many forums, assertions are made to the effect that the value of project management skills is evidenced daily by the efficient delivery of projects.

But wait a minute. The vast majority of projects are inefficient - incurring any combination of over time, over cost and compromised outcomes. Daily, the delivery of projects shows up the shortfalls in project management tools and techniques. This is not to say that they are wrong but that they need to be challenged.

Why, after 15-20 years of project management training and tools, are project results not improving?

This is the challenge I started with back in the 1980s when I first started trying to improve the value delivered from and through projects.

Deep thinking – or challenging – is necessary if we are to innovate and improve.

Try it this week.

Take something you have just accepted as true and right and challenge it.

  • Does it really work? Is it reliable?
  • Or do you non-consciously work around it? Make excuses for it?

In Conclusion

If you cannot think of anything to challenge, may I suggest ‘risk management’. A core project delivery process? Yes. Done well most of the time? No. Challenge your current risk management processes to find out why.

Take a risk plan/register and really challenge it.

  • Are the risks clear and specific? Too often the actual risk is not clear
  • Are the risk management plans full and complete and easy to track and measure?
  • Do the risk management plans actually address the risks? You will be surprised how often the planned activities don’t actually address the real risk.

Let me know what you find.

Topics: Risk Management, Engineered Thinking/Ideas/Innovation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Oct 2012) as "The Need For Deep Thinking"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections