Clyde Hull

Clyde Hull Headshot
1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

It depends on the subject.  For example, I teach strategy, which involves defining what you are trying to achieve, collecting and analyzing data and information, putting together your specific objectives, and implementing the plan.  Once you have a strategy, you’re not done: you have to keep doing all four of those at once.  In the strategy class, students run a simulated company in a competitive environment.  They are required to file “annual” reports explaining their thinking on all four stages – it starts off slowly, but by the end of the semester, they’re doing two ten-page strategy papers a week, and each paper is pretty much entirely critical thinking.

In business ethics, I make students take a stand on a wide variety of issues.  Being willing to voice your moral opinion in public is a major step toward being willing to follow your moral opinion in public. But I also make them critically assess situations:  Is there a hidden moral issue?  What is the unthinking response to this issue?  What additional data would you want to have before deciding how to proceed?  How might a reasonable person who isn’t you come up with a different answer, how is that answer reasonable, and why is your answer better?  Sometimes they decide the “other” answer is actually better.  But they all stand up in front of the class to present their answers and critical thinking, and they are all expected to think critically (but politely) about the answers presented by others.

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

My domain is Management: How to run organizations.  If you don’t apply critical thinking to managing an organization, you will fail.  Morally.  Ethically.  Psychologically.  Financially.  Organizations are complex things involving complex relationships among people.  If you’re not constantly applying critical thinking as you manage them, you’ll make mistakes.  Either you’ll fail and bring down the organization or you’ll fail as a manager and someone else will pick up the slack and save the organization from your mistakes.  

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

I do research on how to make organizations succeed, and how to be ethical (we call it corporate social responsibility) in a way that makes your organization more successful (financially).  I looked at a study that found that innovative companies were also more ethical, so innovation drives financial performance, not ethics.  Because I was applying critical thinking, I saw a gap in the study, and had the idea for a study (co-authored with Sandy Rothenberg) that found that yes, innovation drives financial performance, but that if you’re not innovating, a strong history of being ethical can carry your financial performance.  That’s my most cited article now.  Later, I co-authored another paper (with Sandy and Zhi Tang) that applied critical thinking to “can being ethical financial performance” by looking at specific approaches to being ethical.  We found that focusing on a few good things for a long time (like Wegmans supporting Foodlink for decades) is both more effective at doing good and more effective at helping the bottom line.  That’s my second-most cited article.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?

I try to use it in every aspect of my life.  Raising children, deciding what to eat, how to exercise – I think it yields better results.  In raising children, I think it’s been particularly helpful, because no two children are the same, and what worked well with one child might not work well with the next.  Even after using critical thinking to develop the best approach with one child, you have to keep using it with the next one.  Applying critical thinking means noticing that your current strategy isn’t delivering the results you want, thinking through why not, and making changes until the results are what you wanted.

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

Because I teach students to apply critical thinking in both strategy and ethics, I have a hard time imagining any circumstance where you shouldn’t apply critical thinking.  If there’s something you want, you should apply critical thinking to how to get it.  If you’re thinking about how to behave (for example, to get something you want), then you should apply critical thinking to make sure you’re being ethical.