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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Coaching for Critical Thinking, Part One

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Does your job seem excessively rote, tedious, and repetitive?

If so, automation threatens your job security.

According to Brookings, 25% of all American jobs are at risk of elimination from automation and artificial intelligence. While automation will first disrupt low-wage tasks such as food service, it will also change or eliminate jobs in high-tech fields like information technology and web design.

When we are reminded of this imminent automated future, it is natural to feel some anxiety and apprehension. Many stable jobs that exist at the start of 2020 will not exist at the start of 2030.

Yet many, myself included, believe that such disruption in the labor market will create more benefits than it eliminates. That's because these technologies create more jobs than they eliminate. The jobs they create will not be rote or tedious. Rather, they will require critical thinking, creativity, and innovation. They will allow us to be consultative, rather than transactional. These technologies will change the focus of our labor from task completion to problem-solving.

As an instructional designer for Zendesk's customer experience teams, I'm well aware of how automation and AI have changed the customer service space for the better. As automated bots and self-service content have reduced transactional customer contacts, customer support professionals have pivoted towards solving bigger, more audacious problems. The end result is that customer support agents spend less of their time repeatedly answering the same questions, and more of their effort experimenting, seeking to solve previously unanswered questions. The role of the customer support agent is becoming more dynamic, more fun, even more human.

As jobs evolve into more meaningful work, managers must evolve as well. Gone are the days of the task-master manager, focused on delegating to-do lists and enforcing completion. Today's workplace is the domain of the workplace coach who can empower their teams with critical thinking skills. The most effective leaders in this new economy are those who can coach their teams to pause and reflect and to consider many possible solutions. They are those who can coach their teams to be detectives, to find new solutions to questions that were previously unasked!

The manager in an age of automation must be a coach of critical thinkers.

What is a critical thinker? It is simply one who carefully aligns their thinking in service to a goal.

That might sound simplistic, even easy to do. In fact, it's incredibly difficult. Critical thinking requires the suppression of bias, implicit and explicit. It involves a commitment to slow and steady analysis in a world that expects velocity. It demands consideration of feedback and even pushback. In this age of 240-character thoughts and 24-hour news, it turns out that critical thinking is deeply counter-cultural.

In this blog series, we'll explore what it means to coach for critical thinking. In upcoming blogs, we'll look at:

Together, let's hit the pause button on the rapidity around us. It's time to think, about thinking.

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