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The Path to Critical Thinking by Stever Robbins-5/30/2005
...what makes for good critical thinking about decisions.
What's logic got to do with it?
Nothing! We don't use logic to decide, or even to think. If we did the advertising industry would be dead... Unfortunately, all of our decisions come from emotion. we decide with emotion and justify (fool ourselves) with logic.
Critical thinking starts with logic. Logic is the unnatural act of knowing which facts you're putting together to reach your conclusions, and how. We're hard-wired to assume that if two things happen together, one causes the other. This lets us leap quickly to very wrong conclusions.
We also sloppily reverse cause and effect. We notice all our high performers have coffee at mid-morning, and conclude that coffee causes high performance. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe high performers work so late and are so sleep deprived that they need coffee to wake up.
The trap of assuming
(Know) where the facts stop and your own neurotic assumptions begin. We aren't built to identify our own assumptions without lots of practice, yet the wrong assumptions are fatal.
When we don't know something, we assume
("accept without verification or proof”).
That's a fancy way of saying, "we make stuff up."
Assumptions can also cripple us. A CEO confided that he never hires someone who backs into a parking space. His logic (and I use the term loosely): The person will use time at the start of the day so they can leave more quickly at the end of the day. He assumes face time equals results. In whose world? Many people tell me they get more done in an hour at home than in eight hours in an interruption-prone office. How many great employees will he miss because he's not examining his assumptions?
Some assumptions run so deep they're hard to question. Many managers can't imagine letting people work fewer hours for the same pay. "If they go home earlier, we have to pay them less." Why? "Hours = productivity" is true of assembly lines, but not knowledge work. Research shows that it's not how much you work, but the quality of the work time that drives results. But in most workplaces, hours count as much as results.
Next time you're grappling with a problem, spend time brainstorming your assumptions. Get others involved—it's easier to uncover assumptions with an outside perspective. Then question each one. You may find that one changed assumption is the difference between doing good and doing great.
The truth will set you free (statistics notwithstanding)
Have you ever noticed how terrified we are of the truth? We're desperately afraid that the truth will reveal us as incompetent. Our situation really is hopeless. We really aren't as great as we pretend. So we cling to our beliefs no matter how hard the truth tries to break free.
Nothing tells the truth like solid data and the guts to accept it. But it's difficult in practice. When was the last time you identified and collected data that contradicted your beliefs? If you found it, did you cheerfully change your belief, or did you explain away the data in a way that let you keep your comfortable pre-conceptions?
Be picky about where you get your data. The Internet can be especially dangerous. The miracle of technology lets one bad piece of data spread far and wide, and eventually be accepted as truth.
Help! I've been framed!
Not only may your data be disguised, but the whole problem itself may be disguised! How you "frame" a situation—your explanation—has great power. Frames are big collections of assumptions that you adopt (completely). They become the map you use to explore a situation.
Frames have great power! Presented with a potential solution to a problem and told, "This course of action has a 20 percent failure rate," few managers would approve. When that same solution is presented as having an 80 percent success rate, the same manager is going to consider it more deeply—even though a 20 percent failure rate means the same thing as an 80 percent success rate! The frame changes the decision.
The danger is when we adopt a frame without questioning it. You'll do best by trying several different frames for a situation and exploring each to extract the gems.
People are our greatest asset. Really!?!
Critical thinking isn't just about what happens in our own brains. When you're thinking critically...bring in other people!
Customers, suppliers, partners, employees. They're as much a part of your business as that sparkly new PC you use to play Solitaire. How will your decisions change their lives? Imagine being them and let your imagination change your decisions.
The Gallup organization estimates that 70 percent of America's workers are disengaged, and disengaged workers are dramatically less productive, creative, and committed than engaged workers. Yet few strategy meetings ask, "How can we engage our employees more?" It's as if we say people are our greatest asset—but we don't really believe it.
If you want to improve your critical thinking, get other points of view.
...good thinking demands that you consider consequences over many timeframes. Think out a month, a year, a decade, many decades. That tanning booth looks great when you consider how you'll look in a week, but is it worth looking like a leather overcoat ten years from now?
Think about a decision you're making, and consider:
What is it?
Arguments & Claims
Modeling & Questions
*6 Basic Mistakes
*7 Rules Thinking Skills
*Knowledge for Business