(as a side note, I live in hope that one day not all public domain stock images will be painfully cliche and twee…)

The nature of critical thinking in relation to this project is a tricky thing – it’s not simply a matter of evaluating and developing my own critical thinking capacity and applying a critical thinking lens to my own work, but also examining the impact of how critical thinking manifests at the organisational and individual level of the university. There is a significant imperative for double-loop learning (Argyris & Schön, 1978) – how we do organisational culture – and triple-loop learning (Flood & Romm, 1996) – how we think about how we do organisational culture – inherent in this project and the capacity of individuals to employ critical thinking skills is key to the double and triple loop.

Tversky and Kahneman outline several key cognitive biases (1974) – that later evolved into the concept of System 1 thinking (Kahneman & Egan, 2011) –  that need to be considered both from my own perspective in approaching this project, and how stakeholders will approach engagement with the project. 

The misconception of regression bias struck me as a quintessential cultural problem – “Consequently, the human condition is such that, by chance alone, one is most often rewarded for punishing others and most often punished for rewarding them.” (1974, p1127). The way we treat each other as members of an organisation seems predicated on this – particularly in that we seem to believe that criticism is an effective means to produce change. 

The availability heuristic (ibid, p 1127-1128) is one that I need to consider as a possible bias that informed my determination of organisational culture as a problem to solve, and one that may also inform the ways that other people think about, talk about and act within culture. For the same reasons – we all have easily recallable negative instances of culture (‘overturned cars’), that may be more easily available than positive instances of culture and may lead us to arrive at the conclusion that our culture is problematic or even toxic, when the reality may be more complex.

Imaginability (ibid, p 1128), too, plays a role – we have the dual problem that an “ideal” experience of organisational culture is very difficult to imagine, and conversely the cataclysmic consequences given in sector narratives around what will happen if universities fail to change, such as a future in which universities become irrelevant, are more or less impossible for the average person to imagine, and thus there is a relatively low compulsion to action.

Rhetoric will play a key role in this project, both in the capacity of stakeholder engagement and in the understanding and analysis of the languages and rituals we use as an organisation. Rhetoric has a key communicative function and an understanding of how rhetoric can be used for engagement and how rhetoric is used to communicate culture is essential to the implementation of this project.

In some respects, rhetoric is the art of exploiting cognitive biases, and deliberately invoking System 1 responses for personal gain. As Lancaster (2016) notes, you can make even completely absurd arguments compelling by employing rhetorical skills. Thus, with great power comes great responsibility (Phelan, 2011; Feldman et al, 2004) – particularly in this project, it’s essential to use rhetoric for ‘the forces of niceness’.

Changing perspective slightly, Feldman et al (2004) draw a connection between rhetoric and narrative, and describe a narrative analysis approach that uses a rhetoric lens. As well as being a potentially useful methodological tool for data analysis in this project, it also provides a useful means to analyse the stories I tell about this project as a means to uncover my own assumptions, biases and rhetorical intentions.

Interesting here is Best’s description of the ownership issue of transdisciplinary concepts: “…an issue’s survival depends on someone assuming ownership of the problem…In the case of critical thinking, no discipline stepped up and took responsibility for teaching critical thinking. Rather, critical thinking was seen as everybody’s responsibility, and that meant, in effect, that nobody was especially responsible for it.” (2005, p. 214). Here the actual doing of organisational culture suffers a similar fate – an issue that is everybody’s responsibility, is nobody’s responsibility. 

‘But what about the organisational culture and organisational learning disciplines?’ you might ask. In universities in particular we seem to have an acute expression of what Pfeffer and Sutton (1999) refer to as the knowing-doing gap. In our business faculties we have significant expertise around organisational culture and organisational learning – but when this expertise is forced, through the Mode 1 systemic functions of academia, into purely academic channels (Nowotny, Scott & Gibbons, 2003), the ability to translate this knowledge into action is lost. And so the disciplines who may logically be assigned responsibility for the carriage of an organisation’s culture and learning cannot do so, because they must function as academic disciplines.

As Best notes, “…virtually all academics consider themselves critical thinkers” (2005, p213). And yet this ability is rarely utilised in a Mode 2 context (Gibbons et al, 1994) or a double loop learning context (Argyris & Schön, 1978). This could again be a function of a knowing-doing gap, where critical thinking is primarily channeled into intellectual endeavours and applied to Mode 1 knowledge production.

Perhaps another cause of this phenomenon, though, is that the traits of a critical thinker outlined by Ennis (1996) are often at odds with the traits that are cultivated and rewarded in academia and higher education more broadly. For instance, there are few, if any, systems and functions of a university that are set up to value one taking into account the feelings and level of understanding of other people. A lack of clarity of communication and deliberate intimidation of others through intellect is often explicitly rewarded in academic circles. Rarely do our meetings ever feature really listening to others’ views and reasons. And notably, a ‘charitable epistemological humility’  is counterproductive to a pursuit of career progression.


Argyris, C. & Schön, D. (1978). Organizational learning. Reading, Mass Addison-Wesley Pub. Co

Best, J. (2005). Lies, calculations and constructions: Beyond “How to lie with Statistics”. Statistical Science, (20)3, 210-214. Retrieved from  http://www.jstor.org/stable/20061175?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 

Ennis, R. H. (1996). Critical thinking dispositions: Their nature and assessability. Informal Logic, 18(2 & 3), 165-182.

Feldman, M. S., Sköldberg, K., Brown, R. N., & Horner, D. (2004). Making sense of stories: A rhetorical approach to narrative analysis. Journal of public administration research and theory, 14(2), 147-170.

Flood, R. L., & Romm, N. R. A. (1996). Contours of diversity management and triple loop learning. Kybernetes, 25(7), 154-163. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.une.edu.au/docview/213912322?accountid=17227

Gibbons et al (1994). The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies . London: Sage.

Kahneman, D., & Egan, P. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow (Vol. 1). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Lancaster, S. (2016). Speak like a leader. TEDx Verona. https://youtu.be/bGBamfWasNQ

Nowotny, H., Scott, P. & Gibbons, M. (2003) Introduction: ‘Mode 2’ Revisited. The new production of knowledge. Minerva 41: 179.

Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (1999). Knowing “What” to Do Is Not Enough: TURNING KNOWLEDGE INTO ACTION. California Management Review, 42(1), 83–108. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=2537788&site=ehost-live

Phelan, J. (2011). Rhetoric, ethics, and narrative communication: or, from story and discourse to authors, resources, and audiences. Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 94(1/2), 55-75.

Tversky, A and Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, New Series, Vol. 185, No. 4157. (Sep. 27, 1974), pp. 1124-1131.


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