How to Improve Your Critical Thinking

If, like me, you’re looking for ways to improve your critical thinking and problem-solving ability, Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of the Reboot Foundation, on the latest episode of HBR’s Ideacast, presents 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking:

  1. Question assumptions
  2. Reason through logic
  3. Diversify thought

TED-ed describes a similar five-step process:

…which Patrick Allan elaborates on here:

  1. Formulate your question: Know what you’re looking for specifically. Break things down to their base level.
  2. Gather your information: Now that you know what’s relevant to your problem or decision, research it. Reach out to an expert, read up on the subject, or talk to people who have experience with the same subject matter.
  3. Apply the information and ask critical questions: What concepts are at work? What assumptions exist? Is your interpretation of the information logically sound?
  4. Consider the implications: Look beyond the short-term and think about how your decision will shape things in the long-term. Something that will benefit you now may not benefit you in the future. What’s at stake? What can go wrong?
  5. Explore other points of view: By understanding other perspectives, you learn more about the subject. You’re also given an opportunity to reflect on the information you have and how you feel.

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The first step in questioning assumptions, then, is figuring out when to question assumptions. Turns out, a questioning approach is particularly helpful when the stakes are high.

So if you are in a discussion about long-term company strategy upon which years of effort and expense will be based, be sure to ask basic questions about your beliefs: How do you know that business will increase? What does the research say about your expectations about the future of the market? Have you taken time to step into the figurative shoes of your customers as a “secret shopper”?

Another way to question your assumptions is to consider alternatives. You might ask: What if our clients changed? What if our suppliers went out of business? These sorts of questions help you gain new and important perspectives that help hone your thinking.

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Being aware of common fallacies can also allow you to think more logically. For instance, people often engage in what’s known as “post hoc” thinking. In this fallacy, people believe that “because event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

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In team settings, give people the chance to give their opinions independently without the influence of the group. When I ask for advice, for instance, I typically withhold my own preferences and ask team members to email me their opinions in separate notes. This tactic helps prevent people from engaging in groupthink.

Source: 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking

“We can’t control the future, but we can bend it”

A great way to think about the impact you want to have while you’re here:

My hunch is that two things are true:

  • We have much less direct control over the future than we hope, and that it will always surprise us.
  • We have far more ability to make an impact than we expect.

The only people who can change our culture (and thus our future) are us.

We can’t control the future, but we can bend it. And we can’t freeze the world as it is, but we can figure out how to be a part of it.

The work we do every day, the stories we tell, the paths we follow and the connections we make define our culture, and culture determines what’s next.

Source: Impermanence | Seth’s Blog

“The people we surround ourselves with matter.”

I really love this post from Farnam Street. In a few short paragraphs, it:

  • Asserts that the people that we surround ourselves with, either by choice or circumstance, matter
  • Challenges the idea of the lone genius, reminding us that we’re not self made, that the educational system, public projects like our system of roads and highways, and collaborative efforts like the internet all played a part in getting us where we are
  • And beautifully illustrates the importance of teamwork and collaboration, as well as what makes a great team

Stop me if this sounds familiar. There is a person who toils alone for years in relative obscurity before finally cracking the code to become a hero. The myth of the lone genius. It’s the stuff of Disney movies.

Of course, we all have moments when we’re alone and something suddenly clicks. We’d do well to remember, though, that in those moments, we are not as independent as we like to think. The people we surround ourselves with matter.

In part, because we tell ourselves the story of the lone genius, we under-appreciate the role of a team. Sure, the individual matters, no doubt. However, the individual contributions are supercharged by the team around them.

We operate in a world where it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything great as an individual. When you think about it, you’re the product of an education system, a healthcare system, luck, roads, the internet and so much more. You may be smart but you’re not self-made. And at work, most important achievements require a team of people working together.

The leader’s job is to get the team right. Getting the team right means that people are better as a group than as individuals. Now this is important. Step back and think about that for a second — the right teams make every individual better than they would be on their own.

Source: The Importance of Working With “A”Players

Enjoy the ride!

It’s hard to believe it’s over. It all went by so fast.

38914200_1889215644471878_4945278026683252736_oLast August, I packed up a van filled with my belonging and headed north, first on I-93 and then on I-89. I had come to Burlington to participate in a one-year, intensive MBA program. I had resisted graduate school and more formal education for a while, but something about this program spoke to me.

I soon found myself in a room surrounded by people who felt the same. We had come from different backgrounds, different work experiences, and from different areas of the country, a few from other nations.

What we soon found out is that we shared a similar feeling: that business-as-usual was no longer working and that it is time to transform and, if necessary, create businesses to respond to society’s challenges in a way that is more sustainable. That is, we need more market-based solutions to the challenges that face the world today.

In fact, it was a year ago today that I first met the other members of my cohort. They are, and remain, some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I feel honored to have spent a year in a windowless room with them.

We began the year with a quintessential UVM activity: a trip to the university’s ropes course. In the first of many surreal moments this year, we also took turns looking at the solar eclipse that happened to be taking place that day. Then we played games to get to know each other, followed by other trust-building activities on the actual course. As I walked home that evening, reflecting on the experience and the first day of class, I remember thinking, This is going to be a wild year. Enjoy the ride.

We began by studying business foundations: finance, strategy, brand marketing, and organizational behavior. We learned about the sustainability challenges facing the world. But soon enough, we found ourselves exploring topics that get at the heart of those challenges: strategic CSR, entrepreneurship, innovation, supply chain issues, public policy, and community development. And before we knew it, we were applying what we had learned in the classroom with businesses and organizations with real world challenges.

I tried to go into this year with no expectations for the experience. My initial goals were only to work as hard as I could and enjoy every minute of it. We know not if we’ll ever pass this way again…or something like that.

So, my advice, both to this next cohort and anyone that happens to be reading this, is to enjoy every minute of your time here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak up every moment of it. Take advantage of every opportunity. Enjoy the time you have with the people you’re lucky enough to share a room with. Learn from them. And approach it all with a growth mindset: your intelligence and talent got you here, but the world also needs more people who have a love of learning, that communicate effectively, that work well on a team, and that have the resilience to get across the finish line.

The time flies by. Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye and moving onto your next adventure. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting here a year from now being thankful for every single minute that you got to spend with some of your new favorite people. Enjoy the ride. It all goes by so fast.

 

Cal Newport: “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.”

This article by Cal Newport perfectly illustrates why we should spend less time on social media and more time doing meaningful work (emphasis mine).

Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.

…interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.

My research on successful professionals underscores that this experience is common: As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you. To be clear, I’m not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I’m instead arguing that you don’t need social media’s help to attract them.

 

“I feel like I need something different”

Here’s the thing: loyalty is a two-way street. Whether you’re in a relationship or working for a company, you have to feel like the other party has your back too or else it’s not going to work.

Though he’s too shrewd to say it, that series of betrayals eventually broke his heart. “For nine years, he refused to speak a word against that team – he loved those guys and that city,” says his mom, Wanda Durant, who’s been his best friend and confidante since he started his b-ball journey at the age of eight. “But this summer he said, ‘Mama, I can’t do it anymore. They’re not in this thing with me, we’re not together like we were – I feel like I need something different.’ ”

Source: Kevin Durant Had to Blow Up His Life to Get His Shot – Rolling Stone

#WhatILearned: The Hustle Economy

The Hustle Economy, edited by Jason Oberholtzer and illustrated by Jessica Hagy, is an anthology of insights and advice for creative entrepreneurs by creative entrepreneurs, representing a wide spectrum of artists and makers.

If you believe, as I do, that we’re entering a new era of work, freed from the factory, yet even more connected by the internet, and you do creative work of any kind, then it’s helpful to have a guide…and this is a good start.

The whole book is great, but here are a few of my favorite insights:

Nick Douglas

  • Just make good work and put it out there
  • Over time, a creator convinces people that their work is consistently good, enough so that their next piece of work will be worth betting on
  • It’s really rewarding when you can help people who are a little behind you in their career. Not selfishly, not to “earn points,” but because you genuinely feel they deserve more opportunities than they have right now”
  • Pick your collaborators by their talent, creative ambition, and ability to work with others

Jason Oberholtzer

  • The typical journey is part willingness to get by with less at times, part luck, and part grace – in different proportions for different people
  • Being involved in the hustle isn’t about arriving anywhere – it’s about being “in the mix”
  • When you aren’t focused in one area, building specific, marketable experience and skill, you are cultivating another broader skill: getting good at getting good at things
  • …embrace that which motivates you to action rather than that which taxes your energy so much that its toxic energy reaches into other areas
  • Invest in yourself in concrete ways…learn new tangible skills

Jessica Hagy

  • You’re always still learning
  • Make room for the next bigger, better thing
  • Surrender is not an option
  • Every chore can be a creative exercise
  • Just. Keep. Going

A few tips:

  • Spend at least 15 minutes making something new today
  • Figure out a natural first starting point. Want to write a book? Write a chapter.
  • Now is the time to articulate what you want
  • Reach out to others, and reply with generosity when others reach out to you
  • Start working on something that is worth working on

It’s a collection intended to inspire. And it’s filled with Jessica Hagy’s illustrations, which are great for opening your mind to a different way of thinking about work. I hope you check it out and it gives you a kick in the ass to bring something new into the world.

“Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don’t” – Bruce Lee

Poignant words of wisdom from recently released notebooks from the Bruce Lee Estate:

  • You will never get any more out of life than you expect
  • Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don’t
  • Things live by moving and gain strength as they go
  • Be a calm beholder of what is happening around you
  • There is a difference a) the world b) our reaction to it
  • Be aware of our conditioning!
  • Drop and dissolve inner blockage
  • Inner to outer ~~~ we start by dissolving our attitude not by
  • altering outer condition
  • See that there is no one to fight, only an illusion to see through
  • No one can hurt you unless you allow him to
  • Inwardly, psychologically, be a nobody

I know that I have the ability to ACHIEVE the object of my DEFINITE PURPOSE in life; therefore I DEMAND of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.

via Brain Pickings

“What it meant to be part of a community with common goals of which mutual aid and support were not the least”

This will bend your brain, but is so interesting:

The wellbeing ideology is a symptom of a broader political disease. The rigors of both work and worklessness, the colonization of every public space by private money, the precarity of daily living, and the growing impossibility of building any sort of community maroon each of us in our lonely struggle to survive. We are supposed to believe that we can only work to improve our lives on that same individual level. Chris Maisano concludes that while “the appeal of individualistic and therapeutic approaches to the problems of our time is not difficult to apprehend . . . it is only through the creation of solidarities that rebuild confidence in our collective capacity to change the world that their grip can be broken.

”The isolating ideology of wellness works against this sort of social change in two important ways. First, it persuades all us that if we are sick, sad, and exhausted, the problem isn’t one of economics. There is no structural imbalance, according to this view—there is only individual maladaption, requiring an individual response. The lexis of abuse and gas-lighting is appropriate here: if you are miserable or angry because your life is a constant struggle against privation or prejudice, the problem is always and only with you. Society is not mad, or messed up: you are.

Secondly, it prevents us from even considering a broader, more collective reaction to the crises of work, poverty, and injustice.

Source: Laurie Penny | Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless

The strong middle class of the 20th century “was a choice. It was a policy choice; it was an American choice.”

A strong middle class is, for many people, central to the American idea. There are other core values too, of course—freedom, political representation, individualism, etc.—but an economy in which families can feel economic security, live comfortably, and build up wealth is definitely on the list.

But that’s not the economy America has today. The middle class is getting smaller by the year: According to Pew, the percent of adults in solidly middle-income households has fallen to 50 percent in 2015, from 61 percent in 1951. And belonging to the American middle class doesn’t guarantee financial security either: 44 percent of Americans making between $40,000 and $100,000 say they can’t come up with $400 in the event of an emergency without borrowing money. For black and Hispanic middle-class families, that figure is 58 percent, compared with 40 percent for whites.

Source: A Strong Middle Class Doesn’t Just Happen Naturally – The Atlantic