Too many business leaders are simply not reasoning through pressing issues, taking the time to evaluate a topic from all sides. Leaders often jump to the first conclusion, whatever the evidence. Even worse, some leaders will just choose the evidence that supports their prior beliefs. A lack of metacognition — or thinking about thinking — is also a major driver, making people simply overconfident.
The good news is that critical thinking is a learned skill. Here are three simple things that you can do to improve your critical thinking skills:
- Question assumptions.
- Reason through logic.
- Diversify thought.
Now, you might be thinking, “I do that already.” And you probably do, but just not as deliberately and thoroughly as you could. Cultivating these three key habits of mind go a long way in helping you become better at an increasingly desired skill in the job market.
The first step in questioning assumptions is figuring out when to question assumptions. Turns out, a questioning approach is particularly helpful when the stakes are high.
So if you are in a discussion about long-term company strategy upon which years of effort and expense will be based, be sure to ask basic questions about your beliefs: How do you know that business will increase? What does the research say about your expectations about the future of the market? Have you taken time to step into the figurative shoes of your customers as a “secret shopper”?
Another way to question your assumptions is to consider alternatives. You might ask: What if our clients changed? What if our suppliers went out of business? These sorts of questions help you gain new and important perspectives that help hone your thinking.
Reason Through Logic
Ask yourself: Is the argument supported at every point by evidence? Do all the pieces of evidence build on each other to produce a sound conclusion?
Being aware of common fallacies can also allow you to think more logically. For instance, people often engage in what’s known as “post hoc” thinking. In this fallacy, people believe that “because event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”
So, for instance, a manager may believe that their sales agents rack up more sales in the spring because they’re fired up by the motivational speeches offered at the annual sales conference in February — but until that assumption is tested, there’s no way the manager can know if their belief is correct.
Seek Out Diversity of Thought and Collaboration
It’s natural for people to group themselves together with people who think or act like them. This happens especially readily online, where it’s so easy to find a specific cultural niche. Social media algorithms can narrow our perspectives further, serving up only news that fits our individual beliefs.
This is a problem. If everyone in our social circles thinks as we do, we become more rigid in our thinking, and less likely to change our beliefs on the basis of new information. In fact, the more people listen to people who share their views, research shows the more polarized their views become.
It’s crucial to get outside your personal bubble. You can start small. If you work in accounting, make friends with people in marketing. If you always go to lunch with senior staff, go to a ball game with your junior colleagues. Training yourself this way will help you escape your usual thinking and gain richer insights.