Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Critical Thinking

Last year at the beginning of the election season, one of the State’s political parties launched a platform with a plank in it that opposed the teaching of critical thinking skills in public education.  After a large public outcry, this platform was edited to remove the offending thought. This issue came up in one of the planning meetings of the Central Texas Chapter of the World Future Society and the group present resolved to make critical thinking part of our program of activities. This is in line with our longstanding vision, “Raising awareness of the future and its impact on Central Texas”. Awareness is the first step of critical thinking, followed by, among other things, discernment. The group present in the planning meeting thought that critical thinking was an essential part of future’s studies, both normative and projective.

Intuitively it appears that we are in an era when critical thinking is necessary, not just for success, but survival. There are many trends, global and local, temporal and eternal, that affect us, some that we can change and some that we must just prepare for. Our future is one of very large, complex systems, which at this point we neither understand nor control. Some of these systems are intrinsically uncontrollable. And, we are entering the world of big data driven by our technological capability to accomplish, and spurred by the profit motive.  Moreover, as copious amounts of money are available, “opinions” based on data can be bought. We are already swimming in a vast sea of data and opinions.

Given the vast amount of data, I am reminded of a statement sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Well, maybe not intentional lies, but biases based upon values, not open minded logic. We will need a lot of critical thinking to, as Omar Khayyam phrased it, “The two and seventy jarring sects confute.”

But what is critical thinking? How is it used in real life? Is it a skill? Can it be taught? Is it something that should be a guiding principle of this organization? What is our role in fostering critical thinking?

A panel has been gathered to discuss critical thinking on June 18, 2013 at the monthly meeting of the CenTexWFS beginning at 6pm at Marie Callender’s 9503 Research Blvd #400  Austin, TX 78759
(512) 349-7151. It will be moderated by Paul Schumann and is composed of::

·         Phyliss Blees: educator, peace through commerce, conscious capitalism, creativity, lawyer
·         Carol Flake Chapman: journalist, editor, author, founding editor of Vanity Fair Magazine
·         Joyce Goia: futurist, trend analyst, editor of Herman Trend Alerts
·         Terrill Fisher: improv artist, comedian, training consultant
·         Jon Lebkowsky: programming, social media, editor of Extreme Democracy
·         Diane Miller: civic collaboration, project planning, dialog and deliberation

If you wish to attend, please visit the group’s web site for more information. There is an attendance fee of $25 that includes dinner that is payable at the event
Paul Schumann is a futurist and innovation consultant who is currently researching complexity science and its use in future’s studies. He is the author of four books – Innovate!, An Innovant’s Journey, Leadership in the Interactive Age and Superconductivity – and numerous articles, the latest of which is “1, 2, A Few and Many”. Follow his blog, Insights and Foresight, for more information.

Philomena Blees, J.D. is President of Peace Through Commerce, Inc. (“PTC”) and a Trustee of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.  She was founding Vice President, General Counsel, Treasurer and "Chief Problem Solver" of PTC and Conscious Capitalism’s parent corporation, Freedom Lights Our Word (FLOW), Inc.

Ms. Blees co-founded a school for gifted children in Austin, Texas, as well as two educational nonprofit organizations. She served in the office of General Counsel at the Texas State Treasury.  Prior to this, Ms. Blees was an active securities trader, and a partner in private practice in Honolulu, Hawaii concentrating in tax, real property, and business law.

Ms. Blees is active in the American Creativity Association (“ACA”) and co-founded ACA-Austin Global.

Ms. Blees received her law degree at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law and was 1st in her class. She is a member of the State Bar Associations of Texas and Hawaii, and is licensed to practice before the U.S. Tax Court, Federal District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ms. Blees loves running, hiking, dancing, music, movement, creativity, and reading and is active with her two beloved children and new daughter-in law.

Author of The Herman Trend Alert for the last seven years, Joyce Gioia [joy-yah] has been a professional futurist for decades. In fact, she joined the World Future Society back in the late 60s, when she graduated from college and is now a member of the national Board of Trustees. Once she became a consultant, she discovered that helping clients know what was coming could be her competitive advantage. Joyce is the author of five business books (three bestsellers) on the future of the workforce and workplace. A frequent speaker at association and corporate meetings, she informs and entertains her audiences with a combination of wit and wisdom. Besides holding three masters degrees, she is a Certified Management Consultant and Certified Speaking Professional. Joyce was recently honored by USA TODAY as their FIRST ROAD WARRIOR OF THE YEAR. She says that not only did critical thinking help her to win this award, she also uses it every day to make informed decisions for herself and others.

Jon Lebkowsky is an author, activist, sometimes journalist, and blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and society. He’s been actively associated with various forward-looking projects and organizations, including FringeWare (CEO), Whole Earth, WorldChanging, Viridian Design Movement, Mondo 2000, bOING bOING, Factsheet Five, the WELL, the Austin Chronicle, EFF-Austin (President), Society of Participatory Medicine (cofounder and former board member), Extreme Democracy (co-editor), Wireless Future (project manager), Digital Convergence Initiative (former board member), Plutopia Productions (cofounder), Polycot Consulting (cofounder and CEO), Social Web Strategies (cofounder), Project VRM, and Reality Augmented Blog. He’s currently a web strategist and developer via Polycot Associates. There’s more info at Wikipedia.

Diane Miller specializes in the design, facilitation and implementation of community engagement projects that help diverse groups of people work together to find common ground for action. For the last ten years, she has worked with Central Texas governments, businesses and community groups to address complex civic challenges. Before launching her firm, Civic Collaboration, in 2011, she was assistant director for a regional planning non-profit where she designed and executed numerous collaborative, multi-stakeholder initiatives on complicated and often divisive issues. She has designed and led community forums on an array of topics, from gentrification and regional planning, to education and health care.

Before working in community engagement, Diane worked in the field of organizational development, designing workshops and trainings focused on leadership, teamwork, and change management. She has a B.A. in liberal arts and has studied extensively in the areas of group dynamics, organizational and human development, and civic participatory processes. Diane currently serves on the board of The National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. She has completed certification programs in public engagement from both the International Association for Public Participation and Fielding University.


  1. Here are the questions used in the discussion. Time constraints prevented covering all the questions.

    1. Why is critical thinking important?
    2. What is critical thinking?
    3. How do you experience it in your work?
    4. Can you give examples of critical thinking?
    5. What role does intuition play in critical thinking?
    6. How different or similar are creative and critical thinking?
    7. How is critical thinking related to knowledge?
    8. How does critical thinking relate to future’s studies?
    9. How does critical thinking relate to “big data”?
    10. How important is critical thinking to understanding complex systems?
    11. Is critical thinking a skill, trait, ability, talent, expertise, etc?
    12. Can critical thinking be taught?
    13. Is critical thinking something that this organization should focus upon?

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