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What Do You Meta-Think?

Joseph Alonzo

The Benefits of Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you're thinking in order to make your thinking better.” - Dr. Richard Paul

It’s interesting what we are intentionally taught in school, and what we learn as a result of engaging with the structure of school.  We learn how to make sense of numbers, some of us more than others, and its use is relevant to our daily lives.  We learn how to read, write, and comprehend the works of great storytellers and thinkers.  We even learn about chemical elements, how plants transform sunlight into energy, and how much space, on average, exists between stars (about the distance from San Francisco to Salt Lake City if stars were the size of a thumb-tack, or so my Astronomy professor professed). 

And, so I posed the question to my wife and my roommate, “would you guys be interested in talking about what we didn’t learn in school?” This question assumes the premise that we are intentionally taught subjects like mathematics, English composition, critical thinking, science, and perhaps a foreign language, to name a few, and other skills we are taught non-intentionally, or as a result of simply being in the social structure of school.  For example, we are often asked to work in groups, yet the skills needed to work well with others aren’t always covered.  We are expected to navigate the intricacies of different personalities at work, rather than having it infused into our curriculum (i.e. Period 1- Math; Period 2- Science; Period 3- Working well with others).  Getting back to the question I solicited to my housemates, here are a few of the skills and subjects we came up with:

  • Design Thinking
  • Collectivism + Individualism (the coexistence and value of each, rather than choosing only one. 
  • Systems Thinking
  • Social Awareness (how we impact society and how society impacts us; closely tied to systems thinking)
  • Dialogue
  • Finding value and meaning in our work and in our lives

metathinkingMeta-thinking, despite being abstract in nature, therefore worthy of some serious instruction, is another skill we are expected to learn through its relationship to other subjects.  To meta-think is to reflect on how we think. If there is a cure to circular thinking, the type that creates and perpetuates anxiety, it is meta-thinking.  Our patterns of thought, our reflexive thoughts, and the assumptions we hold about individuals and groups are all processes that could benefit from the use of meta-thinking.  Why? Meta-thinking is reflective, rather than reactive, so it is less likely to get caught up in reflexive action.

Perhaps one of the most valued features of the practice of meta-thinking is its ability to help one develop. 
When we engage in dialogue with another, we are sharpening our ability to listen, collaborate, and be creative.  If we add the layer of meta-thinking to the equation, we then begin examining how we are listening, how we are collaborating, and how we are being creative.  We are practicing mindfulness of our thought process in relation to others.  From that standpoint we are empowered with options. We are opened to an array of responses, from which we can choose, instead of speaking the first thing that comes to mind.  Further, we are endowed with the capacity to observe and regulate our emotional responses, which can bolster our ability to remain even-keeled while facing the inevitable challenges differing minds might pose.

What do you think? Once more, what do you meta-think? 

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Joseph holds a Master’s in Organizational Development from Saybrook University, and is an education and innovation consultant in the San Francisco, Bay Area.  Joseph is a guest blogger for Great Place to Work®.


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