Monthly Archives: May 2014

Deceptively Simple Web-Based Decision Aids

Critical thinking is often defined in terms of the set of skills and attitudes related to appropriate belief formation. But typically having the right beliefs is something pursued as part of an attempt to make good decisions. Ultimately, good decisions and appropriate belief formation are tightly related, and both are part of the study of critical thinking.

Here’s a website designed to help you make decisions: Something Pop. The site essentially helps you apply weightings to various factors that go into making a decision. Some will see this as a way of making sure the factors you value really get applied to a decision. Others will see it as a way of seeing the implications of the values you think you hold, with the possibility of revising them. Either way, it’s interesting.

Of course, you can also flip a coin. Of course, you generally don’t want to let random chance determine your actions. But, as an old saying goes, once the coin is in the air, you’ll suddenly find yourself acutely aware of what you’re wishing for. And if you don’t have a coin handy (after all, who carries change these days?) here’s a website to help you: Flip a Coin.

Questioning Everything

From the Harvard Business Review:
Become a Company That Questions Everything

This useful short article asks how companies can foster the kind of environment where employees challenge long-established policies and inefficient processes.

“How can a company create an environment where people are more inclined to question?” the author asks. The answers, in brief:

  • A culture of inquiry starts at the top — with leaders who question.
  • Questioning should be rewarded (or at least, not punished).
  • Give people the time and space to question deeply.
  • Provide the tools to question well.

Of course, you can’t literally question everything. There isn’t time, and even trying would be pretty disruptive. So one key critical thinking skill lies in figuring out — and developing an instinct for — which things need to be questioned.

Using Diagrams to Illustrate Your Argument

One of the skills taught in many critical thinking courses (and in my own textbook) is the use of diagrams to illustrate the components and logical “flow” of an argument.

The basic method I use is this:

Use a circle to represent your main point. Use squares to represent reasons supporting your point. And use arrows to show the flow of logic — to start at the reason you’re giving and to point at the conclusion it supports.

basic diagram1

You can also read the diagram from the bottom-up. What’s your main point? What reasons are you offering to convince your audience?

You can of course take the reasoning a step further, and that can be reflected in your diagram. You can use additional squares to represent additional reasons, in the form of data or other evidence offered in support of your main reasons.

An example of the result might look like this:
basic diagram
You can again read the diagram from the bottom-up. What’s your main point? Next: Why? What reasons are you offering to convince your audience? Still not sure? What further reasons (data or other evidence) are you offering in support of each of your reasons?

As a simplified example of this, imagine the following chain of reasoning:

You: “We should promote Michael to regional sales manager. He’s clearly the best candidate.”
“He’s a natural salesman. He’s got the leadership skills. And he’s a loyal employee.”
“Yes. His excellence as a salesman is clear from his numbers: he’s been our #1 sales rep for each of the last 5 quarters. And his leadership skill is clear from the way he has taken Ahmed under his wing to train him and coach him to achieve better sales. And the fact that he works late almost every day is evidence of his loyalty.”

If we mapped out the steps in that argument, it would look just like the right-hand parts of the diagram above: a main point, supported by a reason, which is in turn supported by further a further reason or evidence.

M.B.A.s Reading Plato

Here’s an interesting piece from WSJ: “Why Some M.B.A.s Are Reading Plato

The answer, in short, is critical thinking.

The philosophy department is invading the M.B.A. program—at least at a handful of schools where the legacy of the global financial crisis has sparked efforts to train business students to think beyond the bottom line. Courses like “Why Capitalism?” and “Thinking about Thinking,” and readings by Marx and Kant, give students a break from Excel spreadsheets and push them to ponder business in a broader context, schools say.

The courses also address a common complaint of employers, who say recent graduates are trained to solve single problems but often miss the big picture….

Business Articles about Critical Thinking

Here are a few articles I’ve found, mostly in the business media, about the role and importance of of critical thinking in business: