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James Bach on critical thinking: Huh? Really? So?

I’m guessing James Bach has never been accused of being a “yes-man.” The outspoken test guru, well-known for his intolerance of step-by-step test scripts, is at STAREAST 2011 and delivered a full-day tutorial on May 3rd entitled, “Critical Thinking for Testers.” In this short video, Bach recommends three questions for critical thinkers: 1) Huh? (Do I really understand?)  2) Really?  (How do I know what you say is true?) and So? (Is that the only solution?)

Bach is one of many who has been denouncing “best practices.” At the recent SQuAD conference, Lee Copeland also reminded us of the dangers of proclaiming “best practices,” saying that what works well in one context does not necessarily work well in another context. Lloyd Roden in his concurrent session this morning challenged us to “ban the use of best practices.” Stepping through the Dreyfus Model for skills acquisition (novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and expert), Roden said that while best practices may be useful for the novice and advanced beginner, it would stifle the creativity for those who were skilled. “You don’t see a Jedi stopping to take out a rule book to find out how to use his light saber!” he quipped.

I admit to being guilty myself of writing a tip or two that had “best practices” in the title. In fact, I kid that even Bach’s suggestions for critical thinking sound a bit like “best practices.” While it’s certainly useful to learn from those who have more experience than we do, the message is that we must do more than blindly follow processes and rule books. Challenge the system. Question the rules. Look for ways to improve. Do this with three questions: Huh? Really? and So? You don’t want to use those questions? Good! Use your own! That’s thinking!

James and his brother, Jon Bach, will be “torturing the test lab” at STAREAST on Thursday, May 5, at 9:30 ET.

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