It began, as one would expect, in the field of aviation.  In aviation, one does not have the time to sort through enormous quantities of data, often degenerating into data overload, characteristic of information intensive systems. The design philosophy for these digital systems appears to be “more is better”.  In aviation, this will not work, because in many situations “less may often be better”.

So, something else was urgently needed – but what?

I, along with a few others as members of a federal task force, was charged with the responsibility of finding out. Unexpectedly the solution was not yet another piece of hardware, but a radical out-of-the-box enhancement to problem solving skills for all operational personnel.

At first a lot of trial-and-error occurred.  A lot of off-the-shelf stuff, seemingly useful, was not and was thus discarded.

Indeed, digital systems covering everything from “soup-to-nuts” entered the work environment with much fanfare, but failed to deliver on the expected benefits.  We continued our search…

But what did work was surprising, inexpensive, and out-of-the-box: It was critical thinking.

Fast forward to today…

Throughout all information intensive enterprises, a significant amount of data provided by modern digital systems is in fact not used. This realization alone brings into stark relief the error prone way many of us typically think. In many cases, a whopping 90% of data that is collected is not used because it is not timely, not predictive, and too granular. (Source: IBM)

As expected, in aviation, data overload caused cockpit workload to sky-rocket, confusion to prevail and performance to suffer. Likewise, in non-aviation enterprises, data overload caused unproductive work to spike with the top twenty companies spending about 240 billion dollars a year trying to muddle through an increasingly complex work environment. (Source: SAP)

Finding a solution…

In our path to finding a solution to that which was causing degraded operational performance, we finally settled on critical thinking and it proved to be a winner. The critical thinking motto is Clarify-Reason-Win, and this is not just a clever phrase – it works.

Going mainstream…

Ask most corporate leaders today what kind of employees they want and the answer will be nearly uniform: They crave workers who think outside-the-box and are always looking for a better way to get the job done. (WSJ May 17th, 2017, Page R6) In other words, they desperately seek critical thinkers.


A recent survey of 900 executives revealed that the vast majority (90%) considered critical thinking to be as important or more important than technical skills.

That’s the good news. The not so good news is that while critical thinking has gone mainstream, much work needs to be done by innovators to install critical thinking skill sets within each enterprise.


As we speak I am working with some airlines and universities to jump-start a massive campaign to install operationally focused critical thinking skills throughout their organizations.

Also, my Throttle-Up radio show is designed to be helpful.

All of us critical thinking operatives are trying to re-engineer an American business from a conventional company offering narrowly defined components, products or services to an unconventional, futuristic enterprise offering solutions. All brought about by—you guessed it—critical thinking.

Captain Kevin M. Smith U. S. Navy (Retired) is the host of Throttle-Up, airing weekends on RSTR Encore channel. Captain Smith is a pioneer in the field of Applied Critical Thinking, High Velocity Reason, and advanced Adaptive Systems.

Captain Smith’s latest book: Mission Adaptive Display Technologies and Operational Decision Making in Aviation (Co-Authored with Stephan Larrieu) is available nationally.

Captain Smith is also the author of Critical Thinking Essentials Quick Reference Handbook, also available nationally.