Critical Thinking Training Through Storytelling

How many stories did you tell today?  One?  Two?  Twenty?

How many stories did you hear?  Can you remember the image you had in your mind when you heard the story?  Could you envision what the characters looked like even if you’ve never met them?

Have you ever met someone and thought “Oh, that’s not what I thought she’d look like”?

We are natural storytellers.  We also naturally create a mental image to go along with the stories we hear or read.  Those mental images stick with us and help us remember the details of the story long term.

And that is why training through storytelling is so effective.

Tell me 10 facts and I may not remember them.  Tell me 10 stories about how those facts made an impact on your life and I will remember them forever.

A great example of successful storytelling in a training context is the FISH Philosophy.  Tell me it’s important to have fun at work, and I’ll roll my eyes at you.  SHOW me a real story of how working in a stinky fish market can be made fun, entertaining, and improve the customer experience, and I’ll remember it for years (for me it has been 11 years to be exact).

Storytelling can be particularly effective in critical thinking training too.  Some people shy away from critical thinking training because it doesn’t sound fun.  It sounds academic and philosophical.  It doesn’t have to be.

By starting with an engaging story of effective thinking, you can create a mental image of how critical thinking works.  Learners can connect with the characters and envision how they would have handled a similar situation.

That’s what Pearson TalentLens is doing with their new half-day training program THINK Now!  Learners start by reading the Now You’re Thinking! book to connect with a heartwarming, heroic story of phenomenal thinking, problem solving and decision making.  Then they take the My Thinking Styles assessment so they can learn which of the 7 Powerful Thinking Styles is their natural approach to thinking.

Next, the trainer connects the story of how Marines saved the life of a 2-year old girl to the 5 Steps to New Thinking and the Thinking Styles.  To create an even stronger mental connection between the critical thinking model and the real-life story described in the Now You’re Thinking! book, the trainer shows video interviews of the Marines involved in saving Amenah’s life.

Participants walk away from the training with a strong understanding of a critical thinking model AND a real life example of how the use of that model has been successful in the past.  Additionally, when they recall the individual differences of each thinking style, they will remember a character from the story that embodied the characteristics of that style.

It is that meaningful connection and mental image that will reinforce the lessons learned for months and years to come.   Try telling a story with a life lesson today and see how long your employees remember it.  You will be amazed by the results.

How do you train critical thinking in your organization?

Save Your Waistline- Send Your Extra Halloween Candy to the Troops

Are you still crashing from last night’s sugar rush?  If you’re like most Americans, you either have a bowl full of leftover candy from trick-or-treaters that never arrived or you’ve sorted through your child’s bag of treats and pulled out some no-no candy (i.e. candy with nuts for children with allergies).

So, what do you plan to do with that candy?  Eat it and loathe the extra hours you’ll have to put in at the gym?  Eat it and start saving money for the new clothes you’ll have to buy next month in a larger size?  Take it to work and pawn it off on your coworkers?

Last night I tweeted about these questions and received some great responses.  A few of my Twitter friends were proactively trying to give their candy away by reverse trick-or-treating (going door to door and giving away their candy).  However, two of my Twitter friends pointed me to some really great post-Halloween candy projects.

Fist, Homefront Hugs tweeted that I could send my extra candy to them and it would be included in a care package to the troops.  Actually, they have a whole list of items they need and all items can be shipped to:

Homefront Hugs USA

1850 Brookfield Drive

Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Next, my Twitter friend (and US Army veteran) @markvanbaale alerted me to a Halloween Candy Buy Back program operated by local dentists who then send the candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude.  At the Halloween Buy Back site you can search for local dentists who are participating in the program.

What a great way to give back in a small way that also reduces candy waste in your house (and/or your waistline).

Kudos to Homefront Hugs and the Halloween Candy Buy Back program for thinking differently about wasted candy!  Now You’re Thinking!

What do you plan to do with your extra candy today?








Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions (The Story of the Oregon Trail Game)

Months ago Heather Ishikawa, a co-author “Now You’re Thinking!” said something that really stuck with me:  “If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”

The statement still gives me goosebumps.

Since then I have read hundreds of stories about ordinary people who challenge the standard way of thinking, break down barriers, try something new, and make the world a better place.  It’s time to honor those individuals.

This is an example of an ordinary person who made an extraordinary decision that changed the world.

Our first story is about Don Rawitsch, the creator of the Oregon Trail computer and video game.  Don was a student teacher in 1971 struggling to teach his students in a low-income area of Minneapolis about the importance of the Oregon Trail.  He had dressed up as historical figures to tell the students about the adventure, but felt he needed to take the lesson a step further.  On the floor of his apartment, he created a board game that the students could play to understand the day-to-day challenges of the journey.

When Don’s roommates (Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann) came home, they were impressed but thought it could be even better.  They had each only taken a few computer programming courses, but thought it would be a great computer game.  In a matter of days, the first iteration of the Oregon Trail was created and was a huge success.  Despite it’s clunky nature (there wasn’t even a computer monitor back then) and single-player functionality, students lined up to play and learn about the historic event.

As a child of the 80′s myself, I clearly remember the excitement of “computer day” when we got to play Oregon Trail for an hour.  I remember learning to strategize and plan by buying supplies at the store, deciding how long to travel vs. rest, when to hunt (and how much), and whether to caulk my wagon or ford the river.  I remember members of my party dying of measles, dysentery, and exhaustion.  The message was brought home when that individual’s name was scrawled on a tombstone along the trail.  Not only did I learn what an amazing feat that travel was, but I would argue that the Oregon Trail video game was the first game that helped me build decision making skills.

And it all started with a student teacher trying to teach a group of poverty stricken students about an amazing historic event. 

Don Rawitsch was an ordinary person who thought differently, and changed the world.  He didn’t stick to the lesson plan.  He didn’t use the notes and activities handed down by teachers before him.  He didn’t limit himself by the lack of resources and opportunities available to his students.  He challenged the status quo.

He changed the world with the most widely distributed educational game of all time.  Between 1974 and 2011, 65 Million copies have been sold.  This week, the Oregon Trail became available for play on Facebook.

“If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”  It’s that simple.

Do you remember playing the Oregon Trail video game?

To read the full story of how the Oregon Trail video game was invented, click here.

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Thinking Differently About Teaching People with Dyslexia

For years, educators have struggled with how to help students with dyslexia learn to read at the same pace as their classmates.  Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that affects the way letters are visually perceived.  Letters such as “m” and “n” are easily confused, while other letters are flipped horizontally or vertically by the brain. ZWriting resized 600

As a result, individuals with dyslexia struggle to distinguish letters and words as quickly as individuals without the learning disability.  Dyslexia affects as much as 5-10% of the world population, and educators have learned to modify their teaching style to help their students.

However, Christian Boer may have revolutionized the world for people struggling with dyslexia.  He has created a new font that makes small adjustments to each letter that helps illuminate the differences between similar letters.

Watch the video below to learn more about the new font “Dyslexie”:

What problems are you trying to solve today?  

Panera Bread- Feeding the Needy by Thinking Differently

If you’ve visited the Panera Bread location in Clayton, MO, Portland, OR, or Dearborn, MI, you might have noticed something strange about the menu.  There are no prices. 

nonprofitx largeThat’s right, no set prices for menu items.  These 3 locations are actually non-profit community cafes called Panera Cares where customers choose what they would like to pay.

If you have money to spare, you can pay more than the typical price for your meal, but if you have nothing to offer you can still eat.  The cafe is not a “soup kitchen,” though, it is a way for members of the community to help one another when in need.  If someone cannot pay at all, they are not denied a meal, but they are urged to donate their time. They are also using the store as a way provide job/skills training to disadvantaged youth.

The 3 locations were chosen strategically.  They were placed in reasonably affluent neighborhoods with access to public transportation, which has allowed for a diverse clientele.

At these 3 locations, Panera Bread Foundation has found that about 20% of people pay more than the retail price for their meal while 20% pay less.  About 60% of people pay roughly the original retail value.  Within a few months of the first store opening, Panera Cares turned a profit (which they reinvest in skills training).

Who would have thought that removing the price from a menu would result in people paying more than the item is worth?  This is a great example of an organization thinking differently about how to approach a problem like feeding the needy.

Panera already donates between $100-150 Million in products each year by donating their “less fresh” baked goods to charitable organizations.  The Panera Cares cafe is just one more example of how this organization continues to take care of the community through healthy meals, discounted or free items, and skills training.

Kudos to Panera for “thinking differently.

How can you make a difference today?

(image source credit to Tim A. Parker of USA Today)

Think Like a 4 Year-Old

Tonight I met a precocious 4-year old who reminded me how amazing a child’s brain works.  They are persistent, creative, imaginative, and witty.  This particular child, not unlike most toddlers, was trying to bait his mom into buying every item in the check-out line at the pet store.

After being turned down several times, he zoned in on the shiny, engraveable dog tags on the counter, and this is the conversation that transpired:

Child (very dramatically):  “Mom, we almost forgot the tag thing.”

Mom:  “No, we don’t need a tag, because Bailey already has one.  Remember?”

Child:  “But what if he loses it?”1196950 smile resized 600

Mom:  “Then we will have to replace it, but we don’t need to buy one today.”

Child (unthwarted):  “But what about MY tag?”

Mom (semi-amused): “You don’t wear a collar, so you don’t need a tag.”

Child (now very excited): “Oh, we forgot a collar too!!!”

Mom:  “No, children don’t wear collars or dog tags.  Only pets wear those in case they get lost.”

Child:  “But what if I get lost?”

Mom:  “You won’t get lost.”

Child:  “But I might.”

Mom:  “Well, that’s why we taught you your full name, address and phone number.  Then, if you get lost you can tell an adult and they will bring you home safely to us.”

(The child then rattled off all of his personal information, and the mom looked quite proud).

Child:  “But what if I forgot them?”

Mom:  “You won’t.  That’s why we practice them so often.”

Child (after hesitating for a moment):  “But, what if I can’t talk?”

Mom:  “Why wouldn’t you be able to talk?”

Child:  “Well, if I was eating I wouldn’t be able to talk.”

Mom:  “Well, then you would tell them after you finished chewing.”

Child:  “But what if I was REALLY hungry?”


At that point, my cashier finished ringing up my purchase so I didn’t hear the mother’s answer to his inquiry, but I found the whole conversation so amusing!  I almost wanted to buy him a tag just to reward him for his creative thinking.  I also loved that the mother (though clearly exhausted with the conversation) never said “because I said so.”  She didn’t discourage his line of questioning, and answered each question logically.

This is how we build the great thinkers of tomorrow.  Some day that little boy will be sitting in a boardroom, on a battle field, or in the White House asking “What if” because no one ever told him “because I said so.”

How have you had a similar conversation with your children lately?

Thinking Differently About Disabilities

Heather Ishikawa, co-author of Now You’re Thinking!, once told me a great story about finding creative solutions.

She told me about a company that was having trouble with their Packaging Department.  The company started using old newspapers to wrap their delicate items before shipping.  Using old newspapers helped them save money (because the newspapers were donated) and helped lessen the impact on the environment.

However, they realized that their employees’ productivity slowed once they transitioned from using plain brown wrapping paper to the old newspapers.  It turned out the employees were reading the newspaper as they used it for wrapping.

So, they brainstormed ways to keep the newspapers, but remove the problem of reduced productivity.  They exercised a brainstorming technique called “suspension of judgement” which meant that every idea was worth considering, no matter how silly it may sound.  The question became “how do we stop employees from reading the newspapers while they wrap the products?”  Ideas included dying the newspapers, hiring non-English speakers, and dimming the lights in the warehouse.836231 do you trust me resized 600

In the end, the idea that seemed the most surprising became the perfect solution.  Someone suggested that they blindfold employees.  While blindfolding probably wouldn’t go over well with the employees, the idea made them realize that they hadn’t considered hiring individuals who were visually impaired.  The company ended up hiring individuals who were blind and productivity instantly skyrocketed.

This is such a great example of creative and critical thinking.  This company was able to “think differently” by considering every possible solution to the problem.

I was reminded of this story when I watched the following video on this evening.  Some people might think it is impossible for blind people to drive, but this company is choosing to think differently about how to put visually-impaired individuals behind the wheel.

How can you think differently about a challenge you’re working on today?

Now You’re Thinking! Introduces the RED Model of Critical Thinking

In the first half of Now You’re Thinking! we explain how one example of effective and collaborative thinking helped save the life of a 2 year-old Iraqi girl named Amenah.  The story of how the Marines and dozens of volunteers helped pull together to solve this complex problem is truly inspiring and worthy of admiration.

But the ability to think critically isn’t reserved only for heart surgeons, decorated soldiers, and executives.  We can all improve our thinking ability with a few easy to remember steps.  That’s why the authors of Now You’re Thinking! want you to STOP and THINK.

In the second half of Now You’re Thinking! the RED Model of Critical Thinking is explained as one way you can remember to STOP and THINK to ensure better thinking.  In the short video clip below, author Heather Ishikawa explains how to apply the RED Model of Critical Thinking to every day decisions and problems:

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