One critical asset

I have been privileged to write for BizTimes for many years and a lot has changed in how business is conducted during that time. But perhaps one of the most foundational components of business (and life for that matter) that has consistently grown in value is critical thinking skills.

We live in exponential times.

By the time information is generated, published, taught and stored for future use, it is likely outdated.

On the other hand, critical thinking skills (constructing, interpreting, analyzing and evaluating ideas), is the field on which business today is being played. Knowledge in and of itself no longer possesses the innate power as once thought (Francis Bacon, 1597, and Thomas Jefferson, 1817).

Rather the ability to think, reason and extrapolate meaning from information is the means to power in today’s 21st century. Individuals who possess excellent critical thinking skills have an edge in asking insightful questions and challenging their personal assumptions, while also being quick to admit what they don’t know. This leads to shortened learning curves and quicker, more astute observations and thus faster movement to maximize immediate value.

In other words, critical thinking skills offer perhaps the best hope to adapt to the seismic shifts taking place under our feet to leverage the competitive forces of change.

In the world of Siri, Alexa, Google and ChatGPT, the world’s information is literally only a request away.

However, how one finds meaning from that information and how we apply that information to business use is still largely a human endeavor — as are the ever more important relationships formed with business partners.

So, what skills should we be going “all in” on in the workplace?

I believe one of the safest and most durable skills is none other than critical thinking.

A mentor of mine tells a great story regarding critical thinking. Evidently there was a highly acclaimed scientist at the forefront of his discipline who realized that his research focus was beginning to quickly transition into an entirely new area of science in which he had limited education or research expertise.

The scientist was asked how he was so quickly able to adapt to this significant change? The scientist responded that it was relatively easy.

“The same problem solving and critical thinking skills I used in my previous area of study were as equally valuable in the new field. I simply had to gain the technical knowledge in the new area of study. It wasn’t my ability to learn, however, that was the key; it was my ability to apply my existing critical thinking skills to an entirely new set of problems that made all the difference.”

Fable or fact? Or, maybe both — either way the value holds true.

In other words, one of the most important skills a person possesses is their critical thinking skills. When we leverage critical thinking, we begin to question basic tenants, listen and hear opposing points of view and openly allow ourselves to draw new conclusions. During this process we gain tremendous insights that make the journey in business and in life infinitely easier, far more enriching and definitely more successful to traverse.