Toss a rock in any direction in the self-help section of a bookstore and you can expect they will ask you to leave. But avoid this destructive impulse and more than likely you could go home with an armload of books that tout the “incredible benefits” of critical thinking. Look, we get it, critical thinking is awesome, amazing and all sorts of meaningless adjectives.
And it’s true. Managers want critical thinkers. Even if your job requires you to follow a system or is otherwise routine, your boss wants you to be able to think. Eventually, he or she will depend on you to think, and to do so well. Because of this there have been a lot of things written about the magical necessity of critical thinking. These writings have become so prevalent they have even spawned their own myths. Here are a few.
Troubleshooting and critical thinking are mutually exclusive. It’s often said that hiring officers prefer problem solvers to troubleshooters. They want someone with some innate ability to learn things rather than someone with familiarity with the product or protocol in questions. Sure, it’s nice to have someone who can think on their feet, but it’s also great when that person has more than a passing familiarity with the process under examination. Recently, I read about a company that would hire a “critical thinker” before a technician. Really? They are looking for someone who has to start from scratch every time? That’s insane.
Another myth? Critical thinking is about standing out and being noticed. You’ve been in a meeting with this guy. No matter what is being proposed he has a “better idea” or a “different spin.” Many times these ideas are either totally farcical or mostly stapled together complaints, but that won’t stop this guy from trying to get his message out there. Why? Where does this misguided exhibitionism come from? Well, somewhere along the way, someone convinced this guy that “standing out” and being an “idea guy” were the best ways to get ahead. Well, that’s tremendous if you never want to actually accomplish anything. But, if you want to get something done, eventually you have to stop thinking about doing it and start doing it.
That leads to another myth: the idea that all projects need constant analysis and tinkering. Sure, we all know people who just can’t leave well enough alone. They are simply wired to want to make things better. Fine. Good on them. There’s definitely a place for that. But, here’s the problem. If you keep messing with a system, you never give it a chance to work. Sure, it’s a good idea to monitor and assess, but you need to allow your program to progress before you try to figure out What Went Wrong or What Could Be Done Better.
Roman Temkin is a mobile entrepreneur from NYC.