MAN 6636 (Fall 2020): Critical Thinking Essay

A core skill of successful business people is the ability to write relevant, concise, and impactful documents.  The purpose of this individual assignment is to write a short essay for you to demonstrate your writing ability and critical thinking skills.  As part of the assignment, you need to analyze and integrate selected reference sources, “connect the dots” across them, and summarize your conclusions in an executive format (1000 words or less).

Format: The essay cannot exceed 1000 words (not counting references).  Please include the word count at the end of the paper.  The essay must be typed in Word, using 1.5 space, 1-inch margins (top, bottom, sides) and a 11-size font.  Cite in a bibliography all information that is not your opinion.  Remember to write your name on page 1 and add a relevant title that captures the essence of the content.

Evaluation criteria:  The essay will be graded on content and style, based on the criteria below.  Each item will receive 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% of the individual weight (total: 10 points).

CriteriaUnsatisfactory: 25%  <->Excellent: 100%  
Organization & flow (2)Writing lacks logical organization. Ideas show little coherence and a lack of unity. Essay flow is not smooth or has serious errors. Writing shows high degree of attention to logic and reasoning of points. Essay flows clearly and leads reader to the conclusion.
Grammar & spelling (1)The essay has spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors that make it difficult to read. The essay is free of distracting spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.
Style & format (1)Difficult to read, with little or no variety in sentence structure and style.  Fails to follow format and assignment requirements. Clear yet sophisticated; creative use of sentences and ideas makes it stimulating to read.  Meets all formal and assignment requirements.
Thesis & argument (2)Argument is vague or confusing; only implied or not stated early on; not argued throughout. Parts are not integrated. Interesting, arguable, incisive; stated early on and presented throughout.  Parts are integrated into a holistic argument.
Critical thinking (2)Main points lack detailed development and do not support the thesis.  Ideas are vague and lack connection across assigned sources, included those discussed in class. Main points well developed and insightful with high quality and quantity support.  Essay connects ideas from assigned sources, included those discussed in class.
Sources & evidence (2)No evidence of or reference to assigned sources. Used as a filler, if used at all.  Incorrectly quoted and/or cited. Well-chosen and deployed; quoted and/or cited correctly.  Shows how evidence supports thesis.

Instructions

During the first week of the course, we discussed the importance of critical thinking for decision makers who have to operate in a VUCA world.  We also discussed the detrimental impact of groupthink and cognitive biases, which we referred to as the “enemies” of critical thinking (see slides 24 to 28 in Module 1). 

As defined in one of the module pre-read articles, groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for cohesiveness, in a group may produce a tendency among its members to agree at all costs. This causes the group to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation.”

As dicscussed, the risks of groupthink are exponentially aggravated by the widespread use of social media, in particular for your generation (“How social media encourages groupthink”.)

Below you will find a few recent articles that discuss real-life examples of potential groupthink in current affairs that you need to read and analyze for purposes of completing this assignment.

  1. Media organizations/publications have always had a major impact on shaping public opinion and they still do, as observed in some recent manifestations of “cancel culture”.   Several critical thinkers have raised their voices of concern as they fear that mainstream media bias has become a clear example of groupthink in action. 
    1. 462 financial journalists were asked their political leanings.
    1. The “liberal leaning” media has passed its tipping point.
    1. New York Times opinion editor fired for publishing article by Republican Senator.
    1. Bari Weiss’s resignation letter.
    1. Wall Street Journal: A note to readers.
  2. Unfortunately—and adding to the health, economic, and social challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic— there have been some clear signs of groupthink in the way in which a portion of America’s media has covered the epidemic, as described in the following articles: 
    1. Covid-19 skepticism puts author Alex Berenson at center of Amazon controversy.
    1. Millennials think their risk from Covid-19 is exponentially more than the true threat.
    1. Untangling the media myths of Covid-19
  3. Taken together, groupthink, media sensationalism, and lack of critical thinking lead people to form a view of the world that is obsessed with outliers. Outliers can be very informative data points, but outlier-driven decision making could be a recipe for disaster. As explained in this article, “obsession with a handful of outlier cases results in terrible policy making”.
  4. Throughout history, one of the best antidotes to groupthink has been listening to contrarians who have the courage to elevate their critical thinking voices—often supported by data and facts—to combat prevailing dogmas (think of “heretics” such as Galileo).  A contemporary example is Yinon Weiss who has openly criticized the logic behind the Covid-19 lockdowns in a series of four articles in Real Clear Politics.
  5. As a critical thinker, you may want to check the FAU College of Business Covid-19 Florida tracker that presents relevant data in a visually appealing and informative manner.

After reading these articles, reflect critically on what you have read and write a short essay that address the following critical thinking questions, while “connecting the dots” across the different reference sources:

  • What do you think is the level of exposure that you and others in your generation have to media groupthink and bias?  What is the risk of such exposure?  Why is this case?  Whenever relevant, cite examples from your readings.
  • At a personal level, what strategies would you use to recognize and counter such exposure and risks?  How would you help a friend or colleague whom you believe “suffers from a dangerous attack of groupthink”? Whenever relevant, cite examples from your readings.
  • Since organizations are made up of individuals who are subject to groupthink and cognitive biases, companies’ decision-making processes are often plagued by the desire of leaders and employees to prioritize harmony and conformity in the group rather than advocate a different point of view that may challenge the group’s “conventional wisdom”.  How would you recognize the presence of such dysfunctional behaviors in group decision-making processes?   How would you personally help your team and organization to overcome such behaviors?  Whenever relevant, cite examples from your readings.

Make sure that you understand the goal of the assignment.  You are not being asked to provide an “opinion” but to reflect on what you have read and address the assignment questions accordingly. 

Remember your essay cannot exceed 1,000 words.  This would be your way of attempting to emulate William Shakespeare, who in Hamlet wrote that “brevity is the soul of the wit

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