October 15, 2015
There are many articles bemoaning the lack of critical thinking skills in students graduating from college and in society in general. Apparently, newly minted graduates lack the faculties to properly execute the daily routines of necessary decision-making that make business function.
I'm here to tell you it just doesn't matter. What we define as “critical thinking” isn't what makes a business grow and thrive. Critical thinking – as most see it – comes from a space of finding every reason that something won't work; we spend so much time being negative it's no wonder companies struggle. I'll redefine the term with a better framework so critical thinking can move into the modern age.
This Wikipedia post gives a great rundown of the foundation of critical thought, its principles, and origins. At the core, critical thinking is necessary, but like everything else we have taken it to an extreme and use it as a club to bludgeon everyone with sanctimonious and nearly pathological diatribes about why something won't work.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw of critical thinking: you don't have to come up with a practical solution to be a critical thinker; you just have to be critical.
That thought process goes directly against the philosophy of every startup. The reason people go into business for themselves is the firm belief that their solution to a problem is better. Perhaps they have found a solution to a problem others didn't even realize was a problem; that's called disruption.
You may see yourself as a rational problem solver, someone who utilized data to solve real world problems with a customer-focused interface that engages users in a revolutionary way.
Stop being “critical” and be “rational.”
Any marketer will tell you that customers buy products based upon their feelings and then go back after the fact to find the facts to support the narrative they created in their collective heads. If you don't believe me, read Buyology by Martin Lindstrom. If that book doesn't change your perception of customers and buying patterns, then nothing will. If your startup is rational about the irrationality behind feelings, you will be successful. It may seem counter-intuitive. It may feel funny because feelings are hard to quantify, but being critical about feelings will just lead you to find more reasons something won't work.
Being rational doesn't mean ignoring data and relying solely on intuition. With internet connectivity and availability of data, your startup could analyze current data and disrupt the market with a new perspective to an old problem. Employing critical thinking will just stifle your creativity by beating you in the face with all the reasons why you are wasting your time.
Your reaction to this may be that I'm playing word games, and that I just talked myself in a circle. The truth is: words and their corresponding perceptions define who we are. Here are two great examples of how our perspective of words have evolved over time. Your perception of the word “critical” is no different.
- ‘Faggot': It used to mean a bundle of sticks or as a measurement for a pile of sticks. It also had practical applications in welding and knitting. Now it's a derogatory slur.
- ‘Gay': Any analysis of classic literature reveals the word gay used to mean happiness and joy. In the latter 19th and early 20th centuries the meaning evolved into what we know it now.
Words are reappropriated by society all the time. We have reappropirated critical thinking into a defeatist attitude. Being critical in the daily operation of your startup will get you nothing. Approach each day with a rational strategy focused on solutions. You'll never get the funding you need to scale if you are always critical.
Be rational. Own the facts, understand the current climate, be honest with yourself, and sell the hell out of the reasons why your solution is better than what now exists.
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