Critical Thinking

by jcannon on July 13, 2006 01:38pm

First of all, I will not be held accountable as it relates to typo’s and confusing sentence structures. I got back a day or so ago from Europe, so I am using the Jet Lag excuse as long as I can!

I am going to start my blog with a little story that happened a few weeks ago. The in-laws were in town and the wife and I decided to take them to a nice restaurant. The restaurant chosen was Salish Lodge, this is a very nice place and it is famous for it’s brunch.

The restaurant is sitting just off to a very large waterfall (Snoqualmie Falls here in Washington  State, (, and this waterfall is used to make electricity as well. Now, in this restaurant is a large gauge on the wall, This gauge supposedly shows the water flow per second over the fall.

I was always under the impression that it was connected directly through some measuring device directly to the falls, and as such would provide real live data.

Imagine my surprise that while we where waiting for our table I started checking this device out, the gauge was not connected to anything, but instead it is turned by hand to indicate how much water is flowing over at that moment in time.  And you might guess what I could not stop myself from doing next, Yep, turn that puppy up to the highest setting it can go. This, if you believe the
gauge, is about 40000 cubic feet per second.

(below is a picture after I turned it up)

Now, this was like I said a few weeks ago and it was sunny and probably 70 degrees or so. There was no flooding, no weird high water levels. And the river feeding it (Snoqualmie River) was as calm a river as you can imagine. The amount of water going over at that time was not that much more than a trickle. And I very much doubt that in real life the falls ever had that much water go over it. I would assume that that amount of water would take the better part of the restaurant down with it.

Anyway, so why am I writing this story? Well, it started out as a prank, but turned into an interesting social experiment. While we where waiting, people behind started forming up, I heard comments about the gauge and what it was set at. Without fail, everybody behind me took what the gauge said as fact.

This shocked me to no end, nobody said, ‘hey, that sounds like way to much. This thing must be broken’. Nobody seemed to think about that the amount of water that the gauge was indicating was so high as to be completely incorrect to the facts. (The water they could see going over the falls)

Nobody seemed to apply any critical thinking to what they saw.

And this now comes to what I wanted to write about in this blog, critical thinking. I hear a lot of things in the IT industry that are considered important, or essential for a project/product to be successful. Methodology, standards and testing to name a few. All these are _very_ important, but the one thing that I never hear about is the need for critical thinking. I do not think you can be good at IT if you do not let yourself be guided by a good dose of critical thinking.

At a previous project, I was asked to help re-design an application that was spidered into many different systems interfaces. One such interface confused me to no end. It did not seem to add any value, and resulted in delays in processing. I tried finding the documentation on the interface but was unable to locate it (sounds familiar?) and I asked the people who used the output of the interface. And they did not know why it was done the way it was done. Nobody ever questioned it, it was always done this way through this interface, so that is what was expected. The interface was removed in the new design by me, and it was an uphill struggle to get it removed. It was always there, so there must have been a reasoning for it, nobody wanted to check or question if it could be done better or was ever even needed.
The removal resulted in a few less failure points, and noticeable customer improvement in response times.

I constantly find that using critical thinking skills more than anything makes me more effective at my job. And I am fortunately to be able to work with my two colleagues that seem to possess this same skill, Anandeep and Kishi. And force it on me when I am not using it enough every once and a while

So, what have you all found to be the best tool in getting the job done?

And about the gauge? Well, it took a little over an hour and a half before somebody realized the indicator was set to an unrealistic level.

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