How To Encourage More Independent Thinking

When I need to make a big decision at work, I often turn to team members for help. But I do so cognizant of the pitfalls of “groupthink,” a term psychologist Irving Janis coined back in 1972. Groupthink is the tendency to make decisions based on consensus, even if, individually, group members may find those decisions to be weak.

To guard against groupthink, I typically begin by asking team members to email me their initial opinions separately. I refrain from expressing my views at this stage, so as not to unduly influence anyone’s opinion.

But there’s much more to avoiding groupthink than soliciting opinions in separate emails. Independent thinking is more than just generating an opinion on one’s own. It’s a skill that can be learned, and there are new and powerful ways to teach people to be better, more independent thinkers.

New research sheds important light on the teaching of independent thinking. According to a study released earlier this year in Teaching and Teacher Education, an emphasis on the teaching of bold reasoning varies widely among countries and continents. While the teachers in some nations value independent thinking, others prioritize agreement.

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