The value of critical thinking
Human beings are beautifully imperfect creatures – that’s what makes us interesting and frustrating in equal measure. We have the ability to process the most complex information and draw sense and understanding from it. And at the same time, we have the ability to lose total sight of the information and arguments in a decision, because of the lens through which we personally see the world.
Sometimes that’s ok. You ask a room full of football supporters who the best team is and you’ll have numerous impassioned arguments. Most of them are probably factually incorrect, but it doesn’t really matter – the opinion, the belief, the fundamental and overwhelming support is the characteristic that we treasure. We could probably, factually, work out which is the best team – but what’s the fun in that?
Other times, it prevents us from running our businesses and our lives successfully. We eschew the opportunity to explore multiple perspectives, to recognise our own assumptions and we choose to make decisions based on a limited set of information – often because not doing so would directly challenge our status, our beliefs or our previous decisions.
It’s a curious one.
One of the nicest, simplest models I’ve seen for this is Pearson’s RED:
- How can you help separate opinion from fact?
- What assumptions are you bringing in to the decision-making process?
- What are the different view points that exist?
- What data exists to help explore the question at hand?
- What are the pros and cons of different viewpoints?
- Can you make the opposite argument to your natural positions?
- How does the data stack up against the various perspectives?
- What will be the impact and how do you know?
- Given all the information and arguments, what’s the best way forward?
- How do you know?
- What data/information supports your decision?
- Is there something that you don’t know that would be helpful?
There is and will always be room for impassioned arguments and beliefs in business as there is in life. Critical thinking is about curiosity, it is about wanting to explore difference, wanting to understand views, wanting to learn and inform – not beating everyone around the head with demands for rationality and data – that’s another type of closed mindedness.
Seeking first to understand and explore, checking ourselves for out own assumptions and weighing up possibilities can only help us to be both more confident of our views and more rational in our arguments and better in our conclusions. We should, after all, be interested in making the best decisions that we can.