The Lost Art of Critical Thinking
I am often shocked by some of the things I hear people, who would otherwise be considered intelligent, say in conversations that are utterly misinformed and one-sided. Rather than assessing all sides of an issue, story, or event, it seems that the default for so many has been to regurgitate sound bites and overly simplified assessments made by media pundits or politicians on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The act of considering an issue deeply from various angles is increasingly missing from the strategic and decision-making processes of many, even at the highest levels of leadership in our world. So the question is, "Why is this happening now at a time when the public's access to various news and information sources has so dramatically increased?"
The reality of the situation is that for so long we as individuals have relied on a hierarchical system of news and information to do much of the critical thinking for us. By hierarchical I am referring to the process and protocol of how news and information has been disseminated. The difference today is that not only do we have far more access to news and information from a plethora of sources, in many if not most cases we, the public, are the sources. Today, ordinary people can amass an audience to listen to their point of view and take on the state of affairs, simply by creating a following via social media. One of the many results of this phenomenon is the growing distrust in the "sources" of information that we have available. For people considering the issues and events of their day, this reality can be confusing, and perhaps even frightening. Along with the growing distrust, the variety of voices and viewpoints being heard is often overwhelming. People are increasingly finding their long held viewpoints challenged, the foundations of their beliefs shaken.
It seems not just a law of physics, but of society, that every action or movement is met with an equal and opposing reaction. For many the reaction has been to default to one source, one position, and one answer. The major news sources have responded to this increasing demand for safe, palatable, and oversimplified news, by catering to one side of what is often mistakenly considered a two-sided, rather than many-sided, issue. This reaction has fueled the political and ideological polarization so prevalent in our country today. It is natural to seek safety when threatened, but our desire for a comfortable, unchallenged existence has cost us the art of critical thinking; therefore, we are much more likely to make decisions that are misguided.
It is increasingly important, not just for individuals, but for organizations to guard against this growing trend. In my line of work, critical thinking is the foundational attribute required for organizations and individuals to truly take ownership in creating their ideal future. Critical thinking requires us to always question our bias and assumptions when it comes to a situation, piece of information, issue, or event. To take a narrow and oversimplified position on the issues we are currently facing leaves organizations and individuals extremely vulnerable to market disruptions and missed opportunity. Now is the time to not only question the information you have available, but to question the narrative by which you interpret that information.