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Brain Space

By AICC Staff

March 22, 2021

People often want to borrow your brain. Our Matthew used to ask me why boys of his age and stature were required to take out the garbage. I would promise to discuss it when he came back from taking out the garbage. Come to think of it, it has been 30 years, and we still have not discussed it. I think I will text him about this, while I talk to you about developing critical thinking in your team.

In recent articles, I have described some of the tools used to solve proximate problems and to teach team members to solve the problems they face tomorrow. We have discussed tools to plan, problem-solve, and measure progress. They are used in the moment to improve work processes, to reduce waste, and to foster a healthier and more profitable company. Over time, they have the added benefit of providing much-needed experience with concepts of judgment. Working with people with a wide range of capacities, I have found that the willing ones can learn habits of critical thinking. This will improve the work and the culture, but it will also enhance the individual’s career and the community.

I have limited brain space and a number of projects that fill it. Self-serving as I am, I have noticed that I spend a good deal less time solving problems for others. Folks often ask questions for spurious reasons. Sometimes, they want to delegate the problem back to me; other times, they are just avoiding an onerous task. When those who have participated in the use of these tools ask me to think for them, I try to resist the temptation. Instead, I ask what they learned when they looked at the data, prioritized, or completed an A3 report. Then they leave—annoyed—and I work on more value-added tasks. When they return, they have pride in having done the work, and their solutions are usually superior to those I would have suggested.

Most often, people learn these concepts best using low-tech tools like whiteboards. I am well acquainted with the various software tools available for meeting management, problem-solving, planning, and measurement reporting. In fact, I use many of them, but not in a group setting. This has absolutely nothing to do with me being a boomer. It does, however, have a good deal to do with learning theory. People learn best when they are involved. If our education system were modeled on the schools developed by Maria Montessori, then all subject matter would be integrated and interactive. For example, in today’s kindergarten class, we might play with frogs, learn about the color green, write the letter F, and sing along with Kermit. This would use all the associations involved to embed the lessons. However, economics’ influence on public education has devolved to students sitting quietly while they are shown things and talked to. Some folks adapt to learning well in this environment, but everyone learns faster and better when they interact with the subject and with one another. Consequently, utilizing a low-tech interactive tool keeps all engaged and learning.


Some of the most intentional learning companies adorn the walls of their meeting room with planning and problem-solving tools. If you enjoy Toyota Production System nomenclature, you can dub it the Obeya Room. I think that would be dumb, because it just means “big room,” but you can do it. I prefer the Improvement Center, or War Room, or maybe even the Brain Space. No matter what you name it, the value is found in the fact that the tools are right there to help reinforce critical thinking. In the midst of a busy day, we can take a moment to explore an error and try to make it very difficult to repeat. We could also celebrate a success by making it easy to replicate. There have been many times when I was just about to think for a questioner, but the fact that the tool was right there on the wall reminded me that we could find a better solution together.

Matthew just texted me back. He says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Go figure.

width=117Scott Ellis, Ed.D., delivers training, coaching, and resources that develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. He recently published Dammit, Learning Judgment Through Experience. His books and process improvement resources are available at AICC members enjoy a 20% discount code: AICC21.