How Critical Thinking Skills Set You Apart in Business
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
We live in a world where very few people actually think for themselves. By learning to think critically, you can put yourself on the fast track for success in a competitive business world that’s largely devoid of logic and prudence.
What is Critical Thinking?
You’ve probably heard the term used before, but most people are largely unaware of what critical thinking is and why it’s important – especially in business.
In essence, critical thinking is reasoned thinking with a purpose. Dr. Winston Sieck, cognitive psychologist and founder of Global Cognition, explains core critical thinking skills as being able to:
- Appreciate that your own opinions may be wrong;
- Accept statements as true even when they conflict with personal views;
- Temporarily adopt positions with which you disagree.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but these core skills at least provide a good baseline understanding of what it means to think critically. And once you’re aware of the significance of sharpening these skills, it becomes more obvious where you’re coming up short.
When you start to analyze yourself, and those around you, you’ll also realize that critical thinkers are extremely rare in your department, business, and industry. And those that do think critically tend to gravitate towards high-ranking positions of leadership. In other words, they end up being successful.
How You Can Use Critical Thinking
Being a critical thinker requires that you reject laziness, embrace dissonance, and put forth energy and effort in areas where others simply flip on mental cruise control. But what does it look like to use critical thinking in the business world? Well, here are a few examples:
- Stop Confusing Correlation With Causation
There’s a troubling trend in modern society where people confuse correlation with causation. In other words, when two things happen in succession, people automatically assume that the first thing caused the second. However, in many cases, this isn’t true. In order to make more educated decisions, you have to seek out more evidence.
- Always Explore Alternatives
Whenever you think you’ve found a good option right away, chances are you haven’t done enough research and critical thinking yet. One helpful practice is to come up with a list of alternatives and explore each of them in detail. You may very well end up selecting your initial choice, but you’ll feel better knowing you invested in thorough research.
- Don’t Follow the Crowd
As humans, we’re social creatures. Somewhere along the line, we’ve been conditioned to believe that being in agreement with others is a good way to build healthy relationships. So oftentimes, against our better judgment, we’ll simply reject our own beliefs and opinions and go along with the crowd.
In a business setting, this can be troubling. For example, let’s say your boss stands up and goes around the conference table asking people whether they like Option A or Option B. You like Option B, but the three people before you say Option A is the best. While you’ll be tempted to follow their lead, stick to your guns and choose Option B. Otherwise, you risk influencing other people in the room towards an outcome they don’t believe.
- Question Basic Assumptions
How many times have you just gone along with a rule, procedure, or strategy, simply because it’s the way things have always been done? Well, maybe you need to start asking questions. (Even if it means confronting your boss!)
As writer Ransom Patterson explains, “Some of the greatest innovators in human history were those who simply looked up for a moment and wondered if one of everyone’s general assumptions was wrong. From Newton to Einstein to Yitang Zhang, questioning assumptions is where innovation happens.”
Learn to Think for Yourself
Learning to reject your brain’s inbred laziness and complacency is hard, but you must force yourself to swap out mental heuristics for critical thinking – especially when important decisions are on the line. By learning to think for yourself, you’ll actually end up commanding attention and showing your peers and superiors why you’re worth listening to.