The Alarming Decline Of Our Most Valuable Skills

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“We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill… it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress.”

Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong business magnate and investor, #1 on Forbes Richest List, 2018

Even before the introduction of AI, my work has been in developing leadership in all, as well as emotional and social intelligence, critical thinking, personal responsibility, problem-solving, social interest, internal motivation, trust, and empathy. Now, with the arrival of AI, it is likely people will lose more of these and other vital skills needed to meet the challenges of today and the future. More than ever, people need to have confidence and competence in exercising their thinking for creativity, collaboration, and communicating ideas effectively to meet the complexity, rapid change, and technology needs for agile, innovative, and strategic thinking and behaving.  Data shows that:

  • Critical thinking skills have been declining, with many people struggling to think deeply and reflectively (Source: Psychology Today)
  • Cognitive decline is accelerating, with mentally stimulating activities decreasing (Source: Harvard Health)
  • Empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years, especially among younger generations, with a 40% drop in empathy among college students compared to their counterparts 20 or 30 years ago (Source: Scientific American, University of Michigan study)
  • An Average American spends 5 hours and 24 minutes on their phone every day (Source: What’s the Big Data?)
  • Burnout exhausts, paralyzes, and reduces productivity. Mentally, it’s as if the brain hits a wall and struggles to concentrate, experiences memory slips, irritability, and anxiety. (Source: The World Health Organization)
  • Over 75% of American workers say they’ve experienced burnout in their workplace at some point, impairing their cognitive functioning, with roughly one in four feeling it “very often” or “always,” (Source: Gallup)
  • 23% of workers suffer from work-related stress, with a loss of focus and effectiveness, (Source: Kind Mind)

Deer in the Headlights

In our client sites, we see firsthand the fear and discomfort people exhibit when asked to draw upon their often rusty, neglected, and under-utilized critical thinking skills. We incorporate a Socratic method in all of our services. We use thought-provoking questions in our individual online training programs, workbooks, surveys, staff-led small group review sessions, and peer and reverse mentoring. Our methods stimulate heuristic thinking on things never before considered or needed. This elicits engagement with, and support of, people, projects and organizations. When we train them to say less and ask more (SLAM) to expand critical thinking in each other, this seems new and often feels awkward during initial conversations. For those asked what and how questions for heightened awareness and to manage behavior, many freeze, fight or flee emotionally and even physically.

Root Causes of This Alarming Decline in Skills

The decline in critical thinking, cognition, empathy and social interest (recognizing consequences we cause others) are side-effects of the conditioning with control methods used on people from infancy to adulthood, often scaring them about their power and perspectives. In an effort to develop children into good citizens, there is often use of scolding, punishing and shaming (autocratic control), bribing (rewards as control), grading, praising or criticism (judging as control), and enabling by giving answers instead of helping others find them (pampering and spoiling as control).  Beyond control, often outdated formulaic beliefs and solutions are foisted upon people with an expectation that they blindly comply. Further, add the extensive use of electronic devices and AI that also interrupt creative thinking and problem-solving needed for innovation, and effective responses to challenges in yet-imagined future scenarios. Instilling systems that strengthen intelligence, initiative, and competence are vital for happiness, psychological safety, fulfillment, and progress, including as in the evolvement of people and organizations.

Moving Towards a Solution

Adopt a model in which you are asked Socratic questions to strengthen these vital skills. They should be “what” and “how” questions, not “why” (analysis) and “who” (blame) for:

Critical Thinking

  • What are the logical conclusions in your current plan?
  • What are the needs of the situation today?
  • What is your detailed vision for the ideal outcome, including all results?
  • How will you develop your heuristic thinking so you come up with new ideas created on the fly that meet today’s unique challenges rather than fall back on outdated, algorithmic ones?


  • What new information will further your evolution?
  • How can you grow in your awareness of yourself, others, and the world?
  • What specific actions can you take to overcome change blindness?
  • What is your plan for your ongoing improvement and development?
  • What group or persons support your ability to absorb relevant future-facing trends?


  • What do you think your decision cause for others
  • What occurs if a lot of people recognize the unity and wellbeing of the whole affects each part?
  • What stories can you recall include taking the perspective of another and communicating you knew what they are feeling? How did it make you both feel?
  • How will you meet this person where they are at?
  • What might your choice of connection with someone cause them?
  • What ways of listening and responding support community and co-creation?

Social Interest

  • What will you reflect on and choose related to “causing” things intentionally?
  • How do your purpose and values help you align with causing what you do at your best?
  • What mechanism or tools ensure you consistently create the best outcomes for everyone?
  • What values are supporting your unity with others?
  • How can you practically apply values that support commitment to making everyone wildly successful?

If you recognize the need to develop these declining skills among your staff so they grow in empathy, responsibility, internal motivation, and learn to trust and share their invaluable wisdom needed for the best future, call us. Are you ready? We’re here to help!

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, July, 2024

Why People Hire LifeWork Systems

Business owners and executives, community leaders, parents, educators and individuals hire LifeWork Systems because they know that effective conditions and conversations make all the difference in building trusting relationships, achieving dreams, and creating solutions and innovations for our evolving world. When people are happy and responsible, emotionally and socially intelligent, confident, and appropriately seen, heard, and supported, they always exceed expectations. We help instill into every person common concepts, terms, tools, and processes that result in healthy, happy, caring and contributing individuals, teams and organizations. Our mission is to create a world in which all people love their lives!

We appreciate you being here on our website and encourage you to reach out to us directly at or  314.239.4727. May something we offered in this article and website help you love YOUR life ~ because YOU matter!

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