A Midwest university professor complained:  “We are now focusing more on how to use the tools of communication than we are on how to effectively communicate … As a result, we are turning out computer and internet gurus who can’t write and think creatively.”

You bet they are.  Making your points to your boss or anyone else requires more than information.  It demands the critical thinking that convinces them of your point of view.

I would venture as far as saying that technology has set us back in the general field of thinking, trusting gadgets to do some of our thinking rather than using them to enhance our lives.

Critical thinking has never been more important – or more challenging.  With so much information bombarding us 24/7, sifting through the content to find factual, legitimate and useful material is no small task.  Do you believe everything you read or hear?  Do you check sources?

Thomas Edison, the genius of invention, had a way of thinking that was both critical and creative.  Fortunately, it isn’t only a natural-born talent.  It’s a habit you can cultivate.  Take some lessons from Edison’s thinking processes:

  • Question all assumptions.  Don’t accept the conventional wisdom without first examining and challenging it.  It’s said that Edison, when hiring a new employee, would invite the person to have some soup with him.  If the candidate salted the soup before tasting it, he didn’t get the job because he assumed it would require salt without testing the theory first.
  • Generate as many ideas as possible.  The more ideas you have to test, the more likely you’ll find one that works, as long as you keep at it.  Edison is reported to have conducted more than 50,000 experiments before perfecting the alkaline storage cell battery.
  • Analyze your failures.  When an experiment fails, take some time to consider what you can learn.  Keep detailed notes so that when an idea works, you can go back and re-examine your efforts in light of your success.
  • Adapt other ideas.  Edison often used the inventions and ideas of other people as a mental springboard.  Keep up with what’s going on in your organization and industry – what people are doing, where others have failed.  Look for ways to take policies, systems, or ideas that are already working somewhere else, and turn them into something you can use in your own department.
  • Record all your ideas.  Keep a notebook for writing down ideas whenever they occur to you.  Go back over the notebook regularly, looking for connections between ideas or new ways of thinking about the same problem.

These techniques may not make you into Thomas Edison, but they will help you learn to filter out the garbage that clouds your thinking and decision-making.  And there is plenty of junk floating around out there.  I would also recommend these two rules:

  1. Avoid jumping to conclusions and snap judgments.  For example, you might be tempted to dismiss a new acquaintance because he wears tennis shoes with his suit.  Then you later discover that he’s a brilliant thinker with bad feet.  Be sure to collect additional information before drawing conclusions about what you see.
  2. Don’t take a “yes or no” approach to data and decisions.  Even the most straightforward questions may contain shades of gray.  Make a habit of exploring the edges of a problem and looking beyond the obvious alternatives.  Is there a middle path, or one that includes both options?

Changing your thinking patterns takes practice.  But as it becomes habit, you’ll notice that you will not second-guess yourself as often and will spend less time worrying about “what if?”

Critical thinking can also help you with creative solutions to problems.

A man had traveled about six miles in a taxi when he discovered that he had left his wallet at home.  Realizing that he had a problem, he knew that he had to take some kind of action.  So about a block short of his destination he leaned forward and told the driver:  “Stop at this hardware store.  I need to buy a flashlight so I can look for the hundred dollar bill that I dropped back here.”

When he came out of the hardware store, the taxi was gone.


Mackay’s Moral:  Critical thinking is critical to success.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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