There is an essential skill all successful entrepreneurs need, and should look for in new employees, yet is often missing in organizations. And that skill is critical thinking. I teach leadership programs all over the world, and in my experience, it’s a topic most leaders haven’t heard of, studied or received any training in, despite the fact that can provide a significant competitive advantage. But why?
First let’s look at how critical thinking is defined. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s characterized as “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” I have a simpler definition: thinking about how you think. A few years ago, one of my clients said their goal was to be an Executive Vice President. When I asked why, their answer was, “It’s the next block on the org chart.” I followed up with a dozen more questions investigating why it was their goal, not to be overbearing but to get them to think about it on a different level.
So how can you improve and develop your critical-thinking skills? Here are four simple tips.
1. Learn the basics.
The great advantage of our world is there are so many great resources online and elsewhere.You can visit any business website (like this one) and search for articles on critical thinking; attend TED Talks related to critical thinking or simply stream short video presentations by world-class experts on its website; find out if any live classes or online programs are available through your company; or check out books like Thinking Fast and Slow by Danial Kahneman or Critical Thinking by Jocko Babib and Ray Manson.
2. Help your team members learn to be critical thinkers.
If you’re in a leadership role, teach your team members how to think more critically and objectively. Having a team of critical thinkers will make them more effective and efficient. Teaching others a skill will also make you stronger at that skill yourself. As John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
3. Journal every day.
Albert Einstein, Steve Job, John Adams, Lady Gaga, Ben Franklin and Arianna Huffington have all discussed their habit of journal-keeping and how it was one of the reasons for their success. It allows you write down what you’re thinking and then review it with a critical eye, modifying it to adjust your perspective. This technique, coined by a former Disney exeuctive, is called displayed thinking. If ideas are rumbling around in your head, they aren’t as clear. When you see them in writing, their clarity is enhanced.
4. Question assumptions.
Part of being a critical thinker is to question assumptions. After all, sometimes, conventional wisdom can be wrong. When Uber first launched, everyone said the government would never allow it to remain in business because ther fleet were effectively unlicensed taxis. Yet now they’re a fixture in cities across the world. Always ask critical questions like: What assumptions are we making? Are these assumptions still valid? Have the rules changed? In short, increase your success by thinking about how you think.
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