Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Minor Musing About Character And Critical Thinking

I think it was this P&R post about character combined this DWC comment about MBA's inability to think critically that caused me to remember this anecdote told by a business guru. (I have no direct knowledge about the veracity of the story.)

According to the business guru, a toothpaste company was trying desperately to increase sales. They tried new packaging, researched new formulas so that they could claim to be "new and improved," and conducted several new advertising campaigns. Nothing worked. Finally, at a frantic meeting of all department heads, the head of the division in charge of the toothpaste tubes suggested making the hole in the mouth of the tube bigger. Everyone harrumphed approvingly and made it so. Sales and profits increased. The guru pointed to the suggestion as an excellent example of critical thinking.

Americans, of course, use too much toothpaste, We use too much of everything. I'm hard pressed to see why surreptitiously getting folks to use even more is critical thinking. It certainly doesn't exemplify good character, unless one believes that caveat emptor means only the customer should act with character; yet it seems to be good business.

Critical thinking and character have been divorced for too long; a reconciliation is in order. The problem, however, is that divorce was not amicable. Those in the critical thinking camp view those who emphasize character as impractical, and those in the character camp erroneously assume that they will be listened too by repeating the word "character." If the posters lining the walls and classrooms of many South Dakota schools are any indication, these advocates need to learn how to think more critically about crafting a message.

P&R asserts that one should pick character over intellect. He may be correct in ideal world in which both qualities are abundant. Right now, it seems necessary to emphasize both. Critical thinking is necessary to create opportunities, but character is necessary to remind everyone that the fact that one can do something doesn't mean one should.

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