Critical thinking is a fundamental skill related to thinking logically. Critical thinking in modern business is even more important: When employees practice effective critical thinking they are better problem solvers, innovators, decision makers, and they are more likely to think creatively. They are also more organized and use their time more strategically.

Critical thinking is a skill that, when absent, contributes to the rise of recent phenomena like runaway fake news stories or hacking of government and corporate computers, and costs companies dearly in law suits, fines, penalties, and failed projects. The skill of critical thinking in modern business is often described as desirable when asking employers what it is that they are looking for in new hires (Hart Research Associates, 2013). Employers lament the inability of new employees to think critically and solve problems creatively – placing the blame firmly on the high school or college training of the incoming employees. In their article “Eight Habits of Effective Critical Thinkers”, Guinn & Williamson identify several qualities that clearly identify why critical thinking skills are so desirable (Guinn & Williamson, 2017). Among the behaviors identified are that critical thinkers are ‘more concerned about getting it right, than being right’ and ‘avoid the rush to judgment’. The trick to cultivating these admirable traits in employees is actually in training and encouraging a solid foundation in critical thinking. Learning how to think more effectively leads to better decision making and job performance.

The Difference Between Critical Thinking And Non-Critical Thinking

One interesting example of a critical thinking failure in modern business is when employees fall victim to scams based in logical fallacies, or fail to identify deceptive practices in business. There are many examples of this kind of problem, for example consider common problems with information security. One of the most common is falling victim to phishing scams in email. When employees are unable to discern fact from fiction – or learn to ‘trust their gut’ rather than validate facts, companies generally pay the price. Often the difference between critical thinking and non-critical thinking comes down to the difference between making decisions based on facts and logic, and making decisions based on intuition and emotion.

Sometimes the problem is not so obviously attributed to emotion. It simply feels natural – ergo logical to the person making the decision. Just as we can make a habit of behaviors like brushing our teeth or pouring a glass of tea, we can and do habitually perform many tasks based solely on past experiences. You might habitually open a door for others to enter a room for example. You also might habitually sit with your legs sprawled open even to the discomfort of another passenger on a plane – not even considering that you are unfairly consuming the space. You might habitually move out of the path of an oncoming pedestrian because they are male and you are female. Note that there is very little logic in the aforementioned examples – but they are derived of past patterns.

We often assume that when two events are related in one way, they must also be related by cause. We confuse coincidence with cause. Just because two things connect or coincide, doesn’t mean that one caused the other.

At other times you might find that emotion plays a subtle role. Most of us use phrases like “my luck ran out” and “I’m due for a win” when usually there is no ultimate relationship between your odds of success in the current venture than in the prior. We call this the gambler’s fallacy. One example of the influence of the gambler’s fallacy interfering with decision making was documented in a recent publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research (Chen, Moskowitz, & Shue, 2016). The article identifies a pattern of behavior among professionals that demonstrates application of the gambler’s fallacy to successive decision making patterns. In essence, when a professional makes a series of topically or conceptually similar decisions (on independent cases), they are more likely to invert positive or negative recommendations in the wake of a series of prior recommendations. If they made a series of positive loan recommendations, the likelihood of a negative recommendation increases, even when a negative recommendation is not warranted by the data. The team found the same pattern in baseball umpires calling strikes, and immigration workers recommending asylum. Just as people falsely believe that if they’ve flipped a coin twice, and got heads both times, they are more likely to get tails on the next flip. Of course that is the whole point of the gambler’s fallacy. The odds remain 50/50 no matter how many times you flip the coin. But the fallacy is deeply ingrained in the ‘beliefs’ and emotional reality of most people. The research team also found that the more experienced employees were less likely to suffer the effects of the gambler’s fallacy – suggesting that less experienced employees were more likely to include emotion and instinct in their decision making than more experienced employees.

Some Good Resources for you:

Chang, H. H., & Pham, M. T. (2013). Affect as a Decision-Making System of the Present. Journal of Consumer Research, 40: 42-46.
Chen, D., Moskowitz, T. J., & Shue, K. (2016). Decision-Making Under The Gambler's Fallacy. Cambridge, MA: NBER Working Paper Series.
Guinn, S. L., & Williamson, G. A. (2017, January 6). Eight Habits of Effective Critical Thinkers. Retrieved from American Management Association.
Lerner, J. S., Li, Y., Valdesolo, P., & Kassam, K. S. (2015). Emotion and Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology, 799-823.
Sirriyeh, R., Lawton, R., & Ward, J. (2010). Physical activity and adolescents: An exploratory randomized controlled trial investigating the influence of affective and instrumental text messages. British Journal of Health Psychology, 825-840.

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