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Changing how we think about technology – moving from logical to critical thinking

Written by Martin Mascarenhas, Head of New Enterprise and Business, Xalient

Knowledge is power, but it is only as powerful as the way organisations implement what they’ve learned and the subsequent decisions they make. All too often there is a flaw in thinking, in that we tend to be quite tactical and short-term; often we don’t approach problems from a holistic perspective, or we spend too little time considering alternative strategies.

Let’s look at the pandemic. IT departments put technology in place to deal with security, because of the necessity to facilitate remote working quickly. The logical thinking behind this was that if you implement a tool that alerts you to a security problem then it will protect the business from a cyber-attack. But implementing technology doesn’t necessarily make the business more secure. The business is only protected if the security team acts upon alerts and there is a process that allows teams to assess whether an alert is a legitimate concern or a false alarm. In this case, you must also have the resources to deal with the volume of alerts the organisation receives each day (which usually isn’t small) and a strategic cybersecurity programme to assess vulnerabilities and the level of risk to the business. Only if you think about the problem deeply enough do you know if it is a solid idea and, in our haste, we often don’t give ourselves enough critical thinking time.

One great example of critical thinking is ‘Fossil Future’, a book written by philosopher, Alex Epstein, who presents himself as the “next generation in energy thought.” In his book, he talks about what should be considered when becoming Carbon Neutral and the issues associated with power and energy. He was recently challenged by a US senator about his credentials and how, as a philosopher, his theories weren’t based on science. Alex replied that this was precisely why he was qualified to talk about the subject: because he was thinking differently about the problem. While I’m not debating whether Alex Epstein’s theories are right or wrong, what I do think is interesting is how he is challenging the very act of thinking itself.

Back to Covid and two years on did we think about our choices correctly so that we could assess the options well?  In our IT environment, considering the time constraints and the haste to move to a remote set-up, did we go through the right thought processes? This is a great initiative for organisations to consider now, on the understanding that it is okay to have made mistakes so long as we learn from them and correct them now for the future.

To provide another industry-related example, one of Xalient’s clients had over the years created a jumble of technologies and we were appointed to help unpick it. Our professionals don’t just skim the surface, they immerse themselves in the complexities, nuances, and innovation in technologies, offering unparalleled depth of knowledge to pursue new initiatives and accelerate digital transformation.

There was a solid business case for the technology at the time, but not a long-term view of where the business expected to be five years down the line. This is where we get to the nub of the challenge, by understanding our client’s requirements, combined with our knowledge and diving deep into the problem. We help to visualise what that business case looks like in the future. We implement a best practice approach based on understanding how they are going to transition from A to B while still operating business-as-usual.  Additionally, we help to implement an infrastructure that enables the business to flourish as it transitions.

This ‘thought’ issue is also people-related and the need to have meaningful in-person meetings that enable visionary ideas. Since the pandemic, people’s workdays and the way we interact has changed. In our digitally structured world, it is all about outputs, data, KPIs and ‘doing’ and everyone is managed tightly around this. People and organisations may be making bad decisions as a result. Don’t get me wrong, it is easier to work at home all day. Logically I’m more productive than if I were to get in a car at 7.00a.m. and drive for an hour to the office.  However, the difference employees feel when they spend the day collaborating on decisions, receiving feedback and adding value, is huge! The emotional and spiritual energy they create as a team enhances performance, reenergises individuals, and results in better decision-making for the business. Especially if the team is diverse in attitudes, experience, and cultures.

One last example. Gareth Southgate’s success was achieved through his willingness to turn to football outsiders to help prepare his England team, one of whom was former Olympian, Matthew Syed. Human psychology is such that we surround ourselves with people who think just like us. This is how England football thinking was set up for the last three decades. The idea is that if you get knowledgeable football men together, you’ll find a way to win matches, which as we know only too well, was not successful. The team needed an external perspective.

I would challenge that logical thinking must be augmented with critical thinking. I question whether the organisation should resonate with people differently. Albert Einstein once said; “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If we are going to achieve a better outcome, we need to stop doing what we’ve always done. And that is equally valid whether we are talking about football or technology.

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Portrait of Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

Mark Foulsham

Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

With a broad background as a COO/CIO/CDO, C-Suite Advisor, NED, Senior Transformation Leader and Coach, Mark tackles multiple fronts from the advantage of diverse experience in business operations, technology, procurement, delivery and risk. With a deep knowledge of business models from multiple sectors and extensive experience in fast-paced digital start-ups.

Mark’s work across extensive business types, functions and countries empowers him with experience to bear across silos. Mark has built a reputation for advocating cross-business collaboration, taking a pragmatic approach and championing transformative change.