What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to seek the truth objectively. It’s seeing something for what it is and thinking of ways in which it can be seen differently.
Emotions are what make us human, yet they aren’t always beneficial. They have a strange way of distorting reality in times when objectivity is needed.
Any important life decision requires objectivity and listening to your heart together for the best decision to be made.
Politicians need to abandon emotion and do what is best for the people.
Entrepreneurs need to follow cold, hard data regarding business metrics, or else they may fail right from the start.
The spread of fake news demands that we examine a fact from multiple angles and ask ourselves “Who would benefit from this?”.
The list can continue and further prove why critical thinking is an essential part of succeeding in life.
That’s not to say that emotion is useless. We rely on adrenaline to guide us through critical moments and our heart when it comes to our loved ones.
Still, emotions are simply not enough when it comes down to making calculated decisions.
A critical thinker isn’t passive or impulsive. Critical thinking doesn’t allow blind acceptance of facts, nor does it allow one’s emotions to take hold of a decision.
In regards to an objective, a critical thinker has a relatively clear picture regarding the end result and how to achieve it.
Critical thinking allows you to see the big picture of achievement through a series of questions:
- What exactly is the end result?
- Is it attainable?
- Are you ready for the challenge?
- What are your other options?
- How will the necessary steps and the end achievement impact you and those around you?
- What exactly are the necessary actions that need to be taken?
Questions like these leave no room for impulsivity.
Opportunities should be seized as soon as they pass by, yet that isn’t necessarily the best thing to do, especially if it’s easy.
The recent Cryptocurrency craze is proof enough of a “trendy, easy-money scheme” that cost some people about the same amount as others have earned.
The smart ones knew from the start that Bitcoin was nothing more than a “pump and dump” scheme, yet the masses unwittingly believed that the price of Bitcoin would continuously go up.
Critical thinkers know the cost of inaction.
Critical thinking requires consideration and seeing facts from multiple points of view.
However, consideration is useless if it only stays in your head. That’s why you need to take action, even if that means forcing yourself to be productive.
The most successful people have become so by taking calculated risks.
One aspect of an idea may boost your confidence in it, while another “thinking hat” may tell you that it’s not actually a good idea.
That’s quite normal.
The thing about success is that it can never be 100% certain, regardless of how “fool-proof” your plan may be.
Even if you’ve analyzed every possible outcome and have come to the conclusion that it’s going to go well, there’s still an off-chance that something totally unpredictable can happen.
One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is never being 100% sure of your own perspective.
That’s not to be confused with lack of confidence. On the contrary, you’re more confident if you’re able to accept the possibility that your beliefs may be wrong.
It’s what saves you when confronted with clear proof that an idea that you thought to be true turned out to be misinformation or misinterpretation
In the workplace, critical thinking fosters creativity and cooperation among employees and managers.
Seeing from different points of view and engaging people to be active participants in decision-making are two favorable aspects that will increase a company’s effectiveness.
In today’s competitive environment, critical thinking is necessary for businesses to stay ahead of their competition and empower employees. This leads to an increase in overall creativity, better problem-solving and a sense of responsibility, knowing that the manager trusts him or her to get the job done well.
Also, encouraging employees to play an active role in decision-making leads to a better understanding of what the company’s product or service is about, leading to increased productivity.
Brainstorming sessions are a good way to encourage critical thinking among employees. The “ping-pong” of ideas that stem from one person coming up with a seemingly bizarre suggestion, followed by an intuitive resonance on the part of another person can give birth to something truly remarkable.
Consider different outcomes
In the world of business, considering different outcomes is incredibly useful because it helps in dealing with unpredictable situations.
It helps business people always have a backup plan in case things go wrong.
Interestingly, failures in business or life, in general, can be correlated with improvement in critical thinking. Failure is the building block of experience, which brings about insights that will come in handy in future endeavors.
As Richard Branson said: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
Some may argue that you learn by reading, which is spot on.
Reading helps you make informed decisions and offers valuable insights about other people’s life experiences.
Nothing will teach you more than your own experiences, which is something that so many successful people can agree with.
Failures are rarely absolute. Simply take the positive aspects from the experience and apply them to your next endeavor.
Keep failing and learning from your experiences until you reach success.
Never assume that something is true just because the majority thinks so.
Another essential aspect of critical thinking is to never assume that something is true just because the majority thinks so.
This is something that entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires can relate to.
Just think about what you’re taught in school: study for good grades and go to college for a degree that will help you land your dream job.
While that may be a path that leads to a good job and financial security, it won’t lead to financial freedom.
College debt and mortgages are keeping US citizens grounded and in need to trade time for money.
It’s the people who took the road that was less traveled that came to achieve true greatness.
Or, as stated in the notorious 1997 “Think different” Apple television commercial: “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who actually do”.
The commercial celebrates people with bold ideas and visually showcases people (from Albert Einstein, to John Lennon and Martin Luther King Jr.) who have “pushed the world forward” with their uniqueness and their genius.
How to improve critical thinking?
Think of your beliefs
Grab a pen and paper and write down any preconceived idea about life that you know to be true, but can’t exactly give a precise argument for why it is true.
Let me give you some examples:
Geniuses are born that way.
Drinking at the workplace is bad.
Obviously, I disagree with both examples , though many people would agree with the two statements.
This exercise is better done in pairs or groups. Debating is a good way to voice opinions and hear multiple points of view.
Keep an open mind
Go through life with the notion that you may be misinformed or that your current beliefs may be products of half-truths can be surprisingly liberating.
It allows you to rise above petty arguments about what is truth and what is untruth. You gain the ability to take everything with a pinch of salt and you’re no longer surprised when something that you half-believed turns out to be false.
You also become more accepting of other ideas that you don’t agree with because you know that there are two sides to every coin.
Put yourself in other’s shoes
Try to empathize with somebody by thinking how they would think based on their own biased opinions and past experiences.
All this talk about removing emotions from the equation may lead you to believe that you have to become cold and objective in order to be a critical thinker. On the contrary, critical thinking also makes use of empathy and subjectivity.
Empathy is the ability to see the world from the eyes of another person. It’s abandoning your own biased opinions and try to think as other people do, taking into account their own experiences, situation or mental state.
Connecting with other people on an emotional level is oftentimes a determining factor of success. Empathy helps build relationships with other people, which can help you expand your network.
Knowing how somebody else thinks can help in determining his fears and desires. Marketers know how to use empathy to reach potential customers on a personal level and “hit the right buttons” of the potential customer.
Wrapping it up
If you’ve reached the end of the article, odds are that you’re asking yourself “How good of a critical thinker am I?”.
You may have had moments in which you’ve used this skill cleverly, but surely that there were moments when you behaved erratically. It’s only natural, because nobody was born wise.
Anyone hoping to achieve success in business or any other field must cultivate certain habits.
If you’re still asking yourself which traits define critical thinking, here’s a quote that sums it up beautifully:
“Critical thinking is a desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture.” – Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon cleverly summarizes critical thinking in a few words, yet I will go even further and define it using only a few words: curiosity, inquisitiveness, objectivity, consideration and authenticity.