Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
Fortify yourself with a healthy emotional intelligence breakfast
Best business decisions depend on critical thinking, and Lucia Harper is one of the more critical thinkers.
From an early age, she learned from her Air Force father not to believe everything you see on TV or read in books. Her life lesson: “Facts are our friends, and we are all revisionists of history. I had no idea my father was teaching me media literacy.”
Since those formative times, Harper has worked passionately for more than 20 years in high tech, public sector, armed forces, healthcare and startup cultures.
Today, she is a communications strategist, spokesperson and training consultant. She also founded YEP Business — short for Your Exponential Potential.
Taylor owns DIYMarketers, a company “committed to helping small business owners get out of overwhelm.” Ignjatovic is a marketing, strategy, leadership and business consultant.
Critical thinking takes in all aspects of a problem or issue before reaching a conclusion. It emphasizes objectivity over emotion.
“Simply, don’t take any information for granted,” Taylor said. “Take in information, process it, question it and make a reasonable judgement about what it means for you and others.”
Ignjatovic took it a step further.
“Question everything — not for the sake of questioning — but for the sake of truth, real information,” she said. “It’s an objective analysis.”
Critical thinking is not a completely natural trait.
“It’s a learned skill that helps you make better decisions,” Harper said. “A means of determining what is ‘relevant or irrelevant’ or what is ‘useful or useless,’ it’s part of a healthy emotional intelligence breakfast every day.
“No one can be 100 percent objective, but we sure can give it the old college try,” she said.
Business or anything having to do with money is too important to take casually. Critical looks could mean the difference of thousands of dollars in productivity and profit.
“It’s not like we buy the first car we see,” Harper said. “Why make hasty decisions in our business?
“Most people make decisions based on emotion,” she said. “Critical thinking removes bias, streamlines decisions, improves productivity and reduces stress and conflict by improving confidence on and off line.”
This is even more important in today’s climate.
“Critical thinking is important because information is no longer vetted,” Taylor said. “The internet puts the responsibility on the consumer of information to fact check.”
There is also a premium on not rushing to judgment.
“With critical thinking we step away from what’s in front of us,” Ignjatovic said. “We move on to an intellectual and abstract, creating thinking of what if. There are ramifications that we can’t see right away.”
Critical thinking comes from practice and experience. Looking back, think about what you could have done better. Then apply that to processes before they start to avoid similar setbacks.
Taylor believes the best way to develop critical thinking is to ask questions.
“Pause and reflect,” Ignjatovic said. “Be prepared to rigorously question everything — even yourself — but also seek understanding.”
Harper proposed critical-thinking development stages:
- Practice healthy detachment. This is a common emotional intelligence skill. Begin your day knowing that other people’s crap is not about you. Our ego makes the star in everyone else’s story. Ask yourself, ‘Is this really about me?’
- Practice cognitive flexibility. Be open to new ideas. Unclench your mind. Listening to a new idea doesn’t automatically mean we have to agree with it.
- Practice patience in decision making. Very little in Western society is crisis or life-threatening. Take the time you need to make considered informed decisions. It’s your timeline, not theirs.
- Step out of your intellectual echo chambers. We all have mental echo chambers. In these echo chambers we are set in our ways. We attach moral value to facts and behaviors. Your brain is programmed to protect you from change.
Critical thinking is part of problem solving. You’ll reach best conclusions if you start looking at all facets critically first.
“One doesn’t have to be critical thinker to solve problems,” Ignjatovic said. “However, if people want to solve problems the right way, innovative way, they have to be good critical thinkers.”
That leads to less uncertainty.
“Critical thinking gives you a reliable and predictable system to solve problems,” Harper said. “It removes bias and emotion to ensure that you can predict successful outcomes. Problems are just decisions waiting to happen.”
These are Harper’s steps to critical thinking:
- Organize information. We have no difficulty in locating information.
- Structure reasoning.
- Consider evidence.
- Identify assumptions.
- Evaluate arguments.
- Communicate conclusion.
“Dare to ask the question, even the one that scares you,” Taylor said. “It’s important to take methodical steps to gather, analyze and evaluate information.”
Critical thinking keeps you from rushing headlong into decisions without taking variables into account. Just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is.
“Having and following a critical-thinking process regularly will help you make business decisions faster,” Taylor said.
Apply science to business
The circumspect view also helps clarity.
“Critical thinking is crucial when policy and guidelines are too vague to interpret clearly,” Harper said. “Company culture is improved when critical thinking is used in collaboration. It’s the scientific method for excellence in business.”
Critical thinking is counterproductive if you keep thinking and thinking yourself into paralysis. It rationalizes procrastination.
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Harper said. “Decision paralysis is a problem, but if we have a clear process, it’s helpful. There’s a negative extreme for everything to be sure.
“It is not a replacement for emotional processing,” she said. “It’s a cool trick for emotional avoidance, but it can delay the inevitable and grow long-term issues.”
In any case, speed is not of the essence.
“Critical thinking can slow you down,” Taylor said. “The level of critical thinking has to be proportional to the project at hand. You don’t need to think critically about your coffee order, but you do need to think critically about big life decisions.”
The crucial aspect is to keep things in perspective.
“We need to stay focused on the goal of the critical thinking and the task or goal we are dealing with,” Ignjatovic said.
Logical and critical thinking are related.
“Logic is first,” Ignjatovic said. “Then comes critical thinking. However, in reality, critical thinking is the closest that humans will ever get to logical thinking.”
Harper drew a distinction.
“Logic is essentially stringing arguments together so they make sense,” she said. “Critical thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to judge whatever you perceive with the intent to gain a balanced understanding.”
Rather than abstract, there are ways to measure progress or success in thinking critically.
“Document your big decisions in a journal,” Taylor said. “Then look back to see where you were ‘right.’”
An artificial crutch
Harper quantified the measurements even more, relying on key performance indicators such as productivity, emotional well-being, conflict resolution, self-confidence, procrastination and decision outcome success.
Artificial intelligence injects an interesting aspect into critical thinking. It could be the ultimate crutch: Blame poor decisions on a computer when you could have done a better job by doing your own assessments before proceeding.
“This is really scary,” Taylor said. “AI technology seems to be evolving much faster than we are. I’m concerned.”
Ignjatovic also was apprehensive.
“We will never be faster than AI without augmentation,” said. “The problem is not in the machines. It’s in us. Our two main responses are becoming lazy, or we try to compete with the machines.”
Harper was more reassuring.
“Our ability to think critically is not determined by outside influences,” she said. “AI may seek to misinform, but our actions — fact checking, research — determine the quality of our lives and decisions.”
A Forbes article reviews 14 leadership practices to sharpen critical thinking skills.
For a deeper dive into critical thinking, see Harper and Taylor’s conversation.
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