In my humble opinion, critical thinking is becoming more and more of a rare trait in society, especially with young adults. It’s a skill I’ve always admired in people above and below myself in the business world as well as in general life. Indeed, managers typically put critical thinking high up in the most desired traits they seek in young employees. With a high level critical thought comes an employee that can usually think their way around problems, engage well with fellow staff and generally display a high level of emotional intelligence.
In terms of the nature vs nurture issue, can critical thinking be learned? Absolutely. It is not something inherently missing or present in a person. Critical thinking can be developed by learning from experience as well as incorporating certain tools and practises for yourself.
For example, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in 10 years in the business world is that there are two sides to every story. Quite literally. One person will give me their particular take on a situation, which sounds incredibly convincing and agreeable. However, a day later I might find a different individual giving me a contrasting opinion on the same issue which suddenly makes the entire situation seem a great deal less clear cut. As a result, in many aspects of business and general life, I refuse to accept one person’s opinion on an issue or subject. There is always another side. Always.
So how do we actively improve critical thinking? It’s quite simple. In terms of habits to incorporate, critical thinking in a young individual can be vastly improved by one particular habit: Questioning yourself.
How many of us do this properly?
The obvious ways to question yourself are to ask things like:
Am I being biased or irrational here?
Is there another way to look at this?
Have I considered the other person’s point of view?
Yet my favourite question to pose to one’s self is one that would not only assist young managers as they move up in the business world, but would also go a long way towards healing divisiveness in the world and help bring people closer together:
What is the best possible argument against my viewpoint?
This particular question can be translated to all areas of your life. As you become more senior in your career, you find yourself responsible for more decision making. For each decision that you make, you should be asking yourself What is the best possible argument against me doing this?
Preparing a presentation? As you’re putting it together you should continually be asking yourself what the best possible point of disagreement is that someone could raise. If you’re going to present what you perceive to be an incredible idea to a client, you should have thought of the best possible reason the client could have for not going with your idea. Is it still an incredible idea?
Buying a house? Are you asking yourself what the best possible reasons are for not buying the house? As you can see, this applies to everything.
All over the internet, I continually observe that as a society we’ve become more divided on political and identity issues than I have ever seen in my lifetime. Where the endpoint of all this divisiveness is, I don’t know, but it is highly concerning. The great Aristotle wrote that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I suspect many of us shut out contrasting views, perhaps because our own views are so deeply ingrained and inflexible.
Perhaps instead of arguing with each other on the big issues in society, we should be arguing internally on our own first. What people need to be doing is asking the question: What is the best possible argument I could put forward against my own standpoint? If this practise happened more and more in the world, I could almost guarantee a significant closing of the divide.
Critical thought is one of the most powerful forces that can change you, and change the world.