I don’t think, as a society, that we are giving people the tools they need to become critical thinkers in precisely the time when they need this skill most. The world is becoming ever more complex, and the internet and globalization amplify even the smallest disturbance in the force field. People are becoming busier and busier, and demands on our time mean that we really have to learn to think clearly AND progressively; I don’t always have time to wait for someone to give me an answer, and that person probably doesn’t always have time to give it to me. If I make a decision in a vacuum, though, chances are at least 50/50 that I will win the battle but lose the war.
We need a society of thinkers, of problem solvers. I don’t care what a person’s job is, whether she is a CEO or a teacher or an assembly line worker. Critical thinking helps us perform better at everything, whether it’s a job, a hobby, parenting, or life in general. And it’s not hard; it just means asking questions and considering the big picture.
Why is this important?
If I do this, what else will happen?
What if I don’t do it?
Whom does this affect?
Although it may be very deliberate at first, practice makes this process become second nature. In most cases, we don’t learn this in school. We are taught to learn facts and regurgitate them as necessary. While I have a personal fondness for recalling random bits of obscure information, that proves more useful as a party trick than as a problem solving mechanism.
So how do we get there from here? How do we lead people, whether they are our children or our colleagues or anyone about whose success we care, to think critically and be engaged? I don’t know, but I’m passionate about figuring it out. Here are some things I think are important elements of the process:
- We have to set goals. If we aim toward something, we are setting a path, a trajectory. To get from point A to point Z, we have to go through B-Y, as well. That makes it important for us to think about more than the A-B path.
- We have to give people room to fail. If failure is not an option, of course we’ll want someone else to hand us the answer. I certainly don’t want to be responsible. If the price of failure is not death (real, virtual, professional, metaphorical, or otherwise), then I will be more likely to do more things and learn from them. This is really an issue of empowerment. Empowering someone means letting her do it her way, regardless of whether she succeeds or fails. If I want it done a certain way, I should probably do it myself.
- We have to be passionate. If I care about what I’m doing, then I will want to do it right. That usually means caring about its legacy, too. If I want something to last, I need to think ahead.
I have all kinds of ideas bouncing around in my head about this topic. It sometimes strikes fear in my heart, but it always energizes me. What keeps you up at night?
**This post is an excerpt from a piece I wrote some time ago. When I recently revisited it, my passion for it was rekindled. I thought it was worthy of putting it here.**