Think Before You Speak

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

You probably can remember your parents telling you to “think before you speak.” Well, if they don’t, you missed some good advice.

All too often, we make broad generalizations on which there is little to no basis. For example, people like to say that our ROI Methodology™ is based on nothing but estimates. (We have 50+ books that demonstrate these claims are nonsense.) Yet, people hear this notion from some uninformed soul and they repeat it—making them look as uninformed as their source of information.

Someone might claim that if you invest in their particular leadership program, you will get a 250 percent ROI. If you blindly follow and spend resources on the program without thinking through the backstory (and there is always a backstory), you are likely to invest unwisely.

One of the basics skills we as learning professionals need to master is critical thinking. Critical thinking leads to sound argument. Sound argument leads to making claims on which there is a solid foundation. So, if we think critically, we will less likely latch on to and repeat unfounded generalizations.

Keep in mind: Although ignorance is bliss, it doesn’t bode well when you’re making funding decisions for your organization.


Sound argument includes two key elements: the premise and the conclusion. The premise is the basis for the conclusions. The most important characteristic of a premise is that it must be true. While absolute truth may be hard to come by, relative truth is based on research, observation, and digging deep into a topic before we make our claims.

Call to action


It’s time that learning and development professionals rise above the fray of believing everything they hear and read. We need to dig deep into an issue before we make an argument for (or against) it.

  • Will this take time? Of course it will.
  • Will it reduce the risk of making funding decisions based on limited information? Sure it will.
  • Will it demonstrate to senior leaders that you can make good funding decisions just like operations, finance, and R&D? You bet.


Several books on this sort of thinking are available. Three of my favorites are below. Please share some of yours!

  • The 5 Elements of Effecting Thinking by E. B Burger and M. Starbird (Princeton University Press, 2012) is a good one. While the authors focus on getting students to think, they do try to make the connection to professionals.
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by D. Kahneman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). Based on years of research, this book (all 512  pages) gives interesting insights into how and why we think as we do.
  • Critical Thinking by B. Noel Moor and R. Parker (McGraw-Hill, 2008) is another good one. A good textbook for anyone who teaches critical thinking.
About the Author

Patti Phillips is president and CEO of the ROI Institute and is the ATD Certification Institute's 2015 CPLP Fellow. Since 1997, she has worked with organizations in more than 60 countries as they demonstrate the value of a variety of programs and projects. Patti serves on the board of the Center for Talent Reporting, as Distinguished Principal Research Fellow for The Conference Board, and as faculty on the UN System Staff College in Turin, Italy.

Patti has written and edited numerous books and articles on the topics of measurement, evaluation, and ROI. Recent publications include Measuring the Success of Leadership Development, Making Human Capital Analytics Work, Measuring the Success of Learning Through Technology, Measuring the Success of Organization Development, and Measuring Leadership Development: Quantify Your Program's Impact and ROI on Organizational Performance.

1 Comment
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Great ideas, Patti. Everybody knows that but still we forget or ignore it when there is need to apply it.
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