Monday, June 25, 2007

Are you a critical thinker?

Critical Thinking can be summarized in 3 steps. The first is thinking logically and devoid of emotion (for fairness). The second is horizontal thinking, or so to speak, thinking across all related genres of the issue one is dealing with (bigger picture) and the third is using common sense. The 3rd one is the easiest yet the hardest but to be fair, if you get the first two parts right, the 3rd one usually falls into place.

In everyday life, your experiences will always be better in the hands of a critical thinker. Many have fallen for bogus carrot dangled with no real value added as a reason to follow a perceived leader. Often when it’s too late they will learn they have failed themselves. To get here, they must first learn critical thinking. Strangely and sadly, some people go through life without ever achieving this. Critical thinking is not for the lazy. It means you analyze everything you see and hear, understand it fully, research it when necessary and seek to see what else it affects or what else affected it and then come to a conclusion that fits all truths you have uncovered; with the knowledge that caveats exist within the items you have identified as unclear or unresolved. It means you must be engaged mentally at all times. As such, lazy people don’t like to practice it.

There is a simple litmus test for whether you are giving opinions based on critical thinking or not. The process is to imagine yourself as a member of the opposing team, and with all the knowledge you have about the situation, determine if you would then have arrived at a different conclusion as that person. The best way to analyze this is quietly and alone. People in crowds tend to stick to the utter rubbish they uttered to begin with because they are too proud to concede they were wrong. It’s a human instinct, but one that greatly hinders progress. It holds us back from accepting we have learnt something new and are now making a better informed decision. Resist it whenever you can. The litmus test results are as follows. If you find that you would have changed your stand and proposed actions were you on the other side, you have failed as a critical thinker. Your emotions rule your thinking and that’s always a one sided view, disastrous for development and quite frankly is a weakness. The good news is now you know, and once you’re aware of this, you can always take an extra second to analyze your position and re-evaluate before you speak out loud.

Critical thinking is necessary for all leaders. The problems encountered by workers in the African workforce are as a result of lack of critical thinking. To be fair, they are a result of a general lack of management techniques awareness, but anyone with critical thinking could rise above that at any moment because sound judgment would rule the day. How many of you have been fired or yelled at because your boss was wrong and you tried to correct them calmly? Or perhaps because you expressed that you weren’t being treated fairly? That’s what I’m talking about. Your boss makes an incorrect decision based on their emotions (usually inflated ego) and dismisses perhaps one of their best talents. If your boss’s boss was any smarter, your boss ought to be fired and you rehired!

That lack of leadership prowess extends to the House members, cabinet and the office of the president personnel as well. And this is well known and accepted. What everyone misses is how terribly it lacks within the press and worse the general population. The masses are suffering the worst from a lack of knowledge or a lack of will in exercising critical thinking. The latter perhaps in most of Africa, because I’m aware the curriculum insists on years of literature which promote this type of thinking. Summarized and missing key points, critical thinking is cause and effect. Extended with “and keep your unproven sentiments out of this”, it almost gets it all. There is a huge gap in all of Africa and development. That gap is management and leadership training. At the very least, the basics must be taught. Strategic thinking would be a good start.

Don’t despair. This problem is global. You ought to listen to some arguments you get justifying certain things including invading other countries. Fortunately, your world is a better place when you can think critically for yourself at all times. You know what is true and can identify the errors of the bickerers. Whether you say anything out loud or not, you are above the influence. And that’s all that matters!

Now think about your choices, as a manager at work and/or within the political leaders/views you support. With critical thinking induced, what would you do differently?

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