There is a critical skill that you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. This skill is also one of the top skills you should look for in a new employee. Yet it is often missing in organizations. What is this needed skill? It’s critical thinking. Every organization needs it and is looking for it, but don’t take my word for it. According to Clutch, “Leaders everywhere are seeking sharp critical thinkers. Advertised job postings requiring the skill have doubled since 2009.” The Davos World Economic Forum report lists critical thinking as #2 in the top ten skills for the global economy in year 2020.
I teach leadership programs all over the world, and in my experience, critical thinking is a topic that most leaders haven’t heard of, haven’t studied, or received any training in at all. Why? I think most organizations haven’t made critical thinking a core leadership competency so they don’t teach it, incent it, or hire for it, but they should. It can be a significant competitive advantage.
How is critical thinking defined? According to the Cambridge dictionary critical thinking is defined as “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” I have a simpler definition and that is thinking about how you think. I think it is very easy to get so caught in being busy we don’t stop to take the time to think about our thinking and how we are thinking. As Jon Stratton once said, “The purpose of critical thinking is rethinking; that is, reviewing, evaluating, and revising thought.” It is a critically important skill for an entrepreneur. As an executive coach I often coach people who are stuck in their career or stagnant. My job as a coach it to get them to think more critically. One person I was coaching a few years ago said their goal was to be an Executive Vice President. When I asked why, there answer was “it’s the next block on the org chart.” I then asked a dozen more questions about why it was their goal. I wasn’t being overbearing I was just trying to get them to think at different level.
How can you improve and develop your critical thinking skills? Here are four simple tips.
Tip #1: Learn how to be a critical thinker. The great advantage of our world is there are so many great resources online and elsewhere. Here are some resource ideas 1) Go to any business website and search for articles on critical thinking. You will find many articles to read. 2) Go to TED talks (ted.com) and search by topic for critical thinking. On that site you can find many short video presentations by world class experts and there is no cost.3) If you work for a company, find out if any live classes or online programs are available through your company. 4) Read books like Thinking fast and slow by Danial Kalman, or Critical Thinking by Jocko Babib and Ray Manson.
Tip #2: Help your team members learn to be critical thinkers. If you are 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 a 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.”
Tip #3: Journal every day. Many famous people throughout history have kept journals. Einstein, Steve Jobs, John Adams, Lady Gaga, Ben Franklin and Arianna Huffington have all admitted to constant keeping of journals. It is one of the reasons why they were successful. To me the advantages of a journal is it gives you a chance to write down what you are thinking about and then review it with a critical eye and modify it to adjust your thinking. This is called displayed thinking. It is a term coined by Mike Vance, who led Disney’s Ideas and People Development for Disney Productions, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World in the 1970s. If ideas are rumbling around in your head, they aren’t as clear. When you see them in writing it improves the clarity of your thinking.
Tip #4: Question assumptions. Part of being a critical thinker is to ask about and question assumptions. There is often what is known as conventional wisdom, but sometimes (okay, many times) it is wrong. When Uber first started out people said the government would never allow the service to do business, because they were “illegal taxis.” Today they are a part of many cities in the world. Ask questions like 1) what assumptions are we making? 2) are these assumptions still valid? 3) have the rules changed? Asking open ended questions that challenge assumptions with your own thinking and the thinking of other can help clarify your thinking.
Increase your success by thinking about how you think.