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-   -   Critical Thinking and Debate in the US (https://britishexpats.com/forum/usa-57/critical-thinking-debate-us-794665/)

dlake02 Apr 21st 2013 6:56 am

Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
Forking this from another thread....

I'm interested in how other people find this, whether my industry/company is a particular case, whether there is a systemic issue in American society, and what the root cause of this behaviour is (so that I can learn to deal with it before it drives me stir-fry crazy).

My job involves looking at 3-5 strategy. In order to do that, I need to take a long, cold, hard look at everything the company and industry is doing which includes being hyper-critical and taking really quite off-the-wall viewpoints.

I thought that here in the land of the whacky, if I asked anyone an opinion, or how things could be done differently, better or where they thought things should be in the future, for every 10 people, I'd get 20 answers and people champing at the bit to get things done.

To my utter astonishment (and frankly frustration which will drive me out of the country), amongst my American colleagues, there seems to be a total inability to think the unthinkable, or make any kind of critical, independent judgment. Most answers I get seem to be predicated on how things are and ever more shall be.

Ask people to think of the worst broken procedure and then go away and fix it and it's liked you've asked them to go an insult their own mother !

My European staff have absolutely no issue in telling me what's wrong and how to fix it - some even go away and try to fix it, but because we're part of a big American mothership, 9 times out of 10, it is US HQ that stops things being done.

And when they do present anything, instead of being a well-written, argued essay with introduction, argument and conclusion with actions, it's a pathetic 5 slide PowerPoint in Corporate colours; pretty, but void of content.

In the words of the great Zaphod Beeblebrox, "Free-ow, man; what's gives ?"

What is it that stops these people, most in the mid 30s-early 40s so at the peak of their careers, from actually doing something radical. These are intelligent, well-educated people.

The only person that I find is willing to do anything is on his second career having retired on full pension and medical from the Navy a few years back.

Please help me out - the lack of willingness to criticise, change, take risks or just discuss is "doing my 'ead in."

civilservant Apr 21st 2013 7:22 am

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
The resistance to change, particularly in large heririchical organisations, so something I have experienced in the civil service here in the UK. People want to change, know it needs to be done, and yet find any excuse to delay it or to deem in unnessacery.

I actually think its just part of the human condition, we are familiar with what we know, and there is a level of comfort. The unknown, if misunderstood, is frightening.

Fear drives people in strange ways.

Ichigo-chan Apr 21st 2013 11:13 am

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
America is an highly litigious society and everyone wants to save their neck.

Married2abrit Apr 21st 2013 12:21 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
When you are a young worker in the US, you tend to believe management when they ask for new ideas, different ways of doing things, etc. As you continue in your career, you realize this isn't the case. Also it is seen as in some way criticizing the entity you work for or the specific boss (this happened to me when I was young in my second job, unknowingly to me at the time and I honestly still believe that affects references from that job because that boss has moved higher up the chain). Continued suggestions will be seen as complaints at some point and in the US that employee will become a target and usually terminated. That's why so many American workers have the saying "keep your mouth shut and your head down". We know when upper management asks for suggestions they usually don't want them. It's like when native-born Americans say to someone, "oh, we should really get together sometime and do x,y,z". I know as a native-born person that this specific phrase really means "yeah, we both agree that we should do something together socially, but we are both acknowledging right know that we aren't ever going to do x,y,z and let's move on with our conversation". My British husband was perplexed by this concept when he first arrived ten years ago--he's "been assimilated" now, lol.

Speedwell Apr 21st 2013 12:25 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by civilservant (Post 10670388)
The resistance to change, particularly in large heririchical organisations, so something I have experienced in the civil service here in the UK. People want to change, know it needs to be done, and yet find any excuse to delay it or to deem in unnessacery.

I actually think its just part of the human condition, we are familiar with what we know, and there is a level of comfort. The unknown, if misunderstood, is frightening.

Fear drives people in strange ways.

This. My ability to actually do the important things, ask important questions, and produce meaningful content has landed me a job doing "change management" and creating training for internal clients of the project management group of a large international corporation. I'm not the most important person in the group (I'm the newest actually), and I don't think I'm anything special. But my brother, who designs online training for diverse clients of another massive international company, and I have discussed the very complaint voiced by the OP. We think we are fortunate to have become reasonably successful instead of disaffected by our frustration with willful know-nothings. We honestly think it's genetics as well as upbringing because we never, ever thought we'd wind up doing anything like the same sort of job.

Boiler Apr 21st 2013 12:54 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
I can not comment on the US, but in the UK if you have been around long enough and been through enough reorganisations you have completed the circle a few times so are inevitably a bit blasé.

The best thing since white bread is just another piece of bread.

Xebedee Apr 21st 2013 1:33 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by dlake02 (Post 10670363)
Forking this from another thread....
............................I'm interested in how other people find this, whether my industry/company is a particular case, whether there is a systemic issue in American society, and what the root cause of this behaviour is (so that I can learn to deal with it before it drives me stir-fry crazy).Please help me out - the lack of willingness to criticise, change, take risks or just discuss is "doing my 'ead in."

I've worked (with Americans) in factories, on building sites and in offices for over 20yrs now.
My own conclusion is that they don't like change and are very suspicious of anything foreign to their way of thinking.
What's more, they tend to be very compliant with any authority which uses patriotism. Odd when you consider the country's origin..........

yellowroom Apr 21st 2013 2:23 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
As I posted on the other thread, I find this too. The very concept of "having a process" is alien to many in my organisation and others we have dealt with. And in my case, I find I'm dealing with relatively young organisations rather than old established ones.

The previous example I posted is of spending two days with a contractor trying to nail down what their process was to get from A to Z, as they seemed dreadfully inefficient to us and were holding us up. They just couldn't grasp what we were getting at, we just kept having to say "and what do you do next". Two bloody days. Just so we could map out the process in front of them and point out (the bleeding obvious to us) that they could actually get from A to Z in 5 steps instead if they just thought about it.

It was like we were talking Swahili or something.

In my organisation there are several business things that are just not getting done, and it's killing me that they're not. The problem is that they are cross-functional and cross-country so I just can't do them myself. We need to get people round a table and agree a process before we do it. The management can't see a problem and when I have put the case to them about why this needs to happen, again there is bafflement and total incomprehension. Colleagues agree something needs to happen, but it never does.

The thing that I find even more baffling is that there are legal things that we must do due to the industry we're in, and we have processes sorted for all of that! We just can't seem to carry on to business things, and it's going to bite us in the bum big time. Being able to say "told you so" gives me no satisfaction at all.

Lion in Winter Apr 21st 2013 2:38 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by Married2abrit (Post 10670733)
When you are a young worker in the US, you tend to believe management when they ask for new ideas, different ways of doing things, etc. As you continue in your career, you realize this isn't the case. Also it is seen as in some way criticizing the entity you work for or the specific boss (this happened to me when I was young in my second job, unknowingly to me at the time and I honestly still believe that affects references from that job because that boss has moved higher up the chain). Continued suggestions will be seen as complaints at some point and in the US that employee will become a target and usually terminated. That's why so many American workers have the saying "keep your mouth shut and your head down". We know when upper management asks for suggestions they usually don't want them. It's like when native-born Americans say to someone, "oh, we should really get together sometime and do x,y,z". I know as a native-born person that this specific phrase really means "yeah, we both agree that we should do something together socially, but we are both acknowledging right know that we aren't ever going to do x,y,z and let's move on with our conversation". My British husband was perplexed by this concept when he first arrived ten years ago--he's "been assimilated" now, lol.

Interesting what you say about young workers. I find that to be true. I have two young staff, newish graduates, and they are fortunately still in the phase of thinking they can do everything better than it was done before. Now, how to keep that....

Lion in Winter Apr 21st 2013 2:44 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by dlake02 (Post 10670363)
Forking this from another thread....

I'm interested in how other people find this, whether my industry/company is a particular case, whether there is a systemic issue in American society, and what the root cause of this behaviour is (so that I can learn to deal with it before it drives me stir-fry crazy).

My job involves looking at 3-5 strategy. In order to do that, I need to take a long, cold, hard look at everything the company and industry is doing which includes being hyper-critical and taking really quite off-the-wall viewpoints.

I thought that here in the land of the whacky, if I asked anyone an opinion, or how things could be done differently, better or where they thought things should be in the future, for every 10 people, I'd get 20 answers and people champing at the bit to get things done.

To my utter astonishment (and frankly frustration which will drive me out of the country), amongst my American colleagues, there seems to be a total inability to think the unthinkable, or make any kind of critical, independent judgment. Most answers I get seem to be predicated on how things are and ever more shall be.

Ask people to think of the worst broken procedure and then go away and fix it and it's liked you've asked them to go an insult their own mother !

My European staff have absolutely no issue in telling me what's wrong and how to fix it - some even go away and try to fix it, but because we're part of a big American mothership, 9 times out of 10, it is US HQ that stops things being done.

And when they do present anything, instead of being a well-written, argued essay with introduction, argument and conclusion with actions, it's a pathetic 5 slide PowerPoint in Corporate colours; pretty, but void of content.

In the words of the great Zaphod Beeblebrox, "Free-ow, man; what's gives ?"

What is it that stops these people, most in the mid 30s-early 40s so at the peak of their careers, from actually doing something radical. These are intelligent, well-educated people.

The only person that I find is willing to do anything is on his second career having retired on full pension and medical from the Navy a few years back.

Please help me out - the lack of willingness to criticise, change, take risks or just discuss is "doing my 'ead in."


The writing problem and creation of a thought-out argument/presentation is everywhere. I think there must be less of it in schools and not only do people not want to do it they don't want to read it either. I still get told to rewrite such things that I produce and just use a couple of three-line paragraphs and a lot of bullet points. It's hard to make a convincing case for anything that way. You just have to remember your audience, and use the methods that will work for them - so I try to combine written with a lot of talking, and have it carefully thought out ahead of time so that they are't overwhelmed. Full arguments often overwhelm them - go step by step and walk them through it.

yellowroom Apr 21st 2013 2:59 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by Lion in Winter (Post 10670842)
I still get told to rewrite such things that I produce and just use a couple of three-line paragraphs and a lot of bullet points. It's hard to make a convincing case for anything that way. You just have to remember your audience, and use the methods that will work for them - so I try to combine written with a lot of talking, and have it carefully thought out ahead of time so that they are't overwhelmed. Full arguments often overwhelm them - go step by step and walk them through it.

:nod:

Its probably where I'm going wrong. I hear "gosh, that's um er comprehensive" for a 1 page memo.

Boiler Apr 21st 2013 3:00 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 
Sounds like any large organisation, most large Private Companies and all Governmental.

Gordon Barlow Apr 21st 2013 3:07 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by Lion in Winter (Post 10670842)
The writing problem and creation of a thought-out argument/presentation is everywhere. I think there must be less of it in schools and not only do people not want to do it they don't want to read it either. I still get told to rewrite such things that I produce and just use a couple of three-line paragraphs and a lot of bullet points. It's hard to make a convincing case for anything that way. You just have to remember your audience, and use the methods that will work for them - so I try to combine written with a lot of talking, and have it carefully thought out ahead of time so that they are't overwhelmed. Full arguments often overwhelm them - go step by step and walk them through it.

Lion. It's become a Power-Point business-culture.

yellowroom Apr 21st 2013 3:09 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by Boiler (Post 10670863)
Sounds like any large organisation, most large Private Companies and all Governmental.

I refer you to a comment I made yesterday on another thread when I said there appears to be a large degree of fatalism about this and accepting that the problem is too big to fix, so why bother trying.

It's extremely frustrating to those of us who came here expecting that there would be a higher degree of innovation in the country that 40 years ago was putting human beings on the moon.

Lion in Winter Apr 21st 2013 3:14 pm

Re: Critical Thinking and Debate in the US
 

Originally Posted by Gordon Barlow (Post 10670872)
Lion. It's become a Power-Point business-culture.

When I have to do presentations I make the slides really pretty to keep people entertained, then I talk so I can actually get full points across. It's definitely a case of adapting to what works for your audience. I hate power point myself, because when I write I think carefully and revise and revise until it's just right - but then nobody reads it so it's a pointless exercise. I just have to try to remember everything I want to say and then deliver it. It certainly helps here that I sound English - people listen better because I sound different.


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