Do you question assumptions or simply accept them? Are your own beliefs cast in stone? What about commonly held beliefs? Do you accept them at face value?
It’s one thing to say you seek the truth, but actively questioning assumptions, your own beliefs and common doctrine is another matter entirely. That requires a skillset known as critical thinking, a concept that dates back to the Greek philosopher Socrates and his eponymous method of challenging assumptions to reach logical and objective conclusions.
Critical thinking is as fundamental to business success as it’s been to the advancement of technology and the advent of modern civilization. And yet, it’s apparently in very short supply. Even in these highly enlightened times, an embarrassing number of popular myths gain wide acceptance among otherwise intelligent people.
Take the popular hype over emotional intelligence (EI), for example. EI has become such a sought after quality that it’s almost a requirement for executives and business leaders. It has rapidly become ubiquitous on many job specifications. And some companies even consider it a necessity for all new hires to fit into their company culture.
Meanwhile, we have yet to see hard scientific evidence that EI is predictive of positive outcomes across a wide range of job functions. As Wharton professor Adam Grant points out, EI has a decidedly manipulative aspect that can easily be used to game the self-reported EQ tests and control others.
In terms of fads that are not the panacea they’ve been made out to be, EI is big but entrepreneurship must be the biggest. A popular myth of the modern business era is that, if you want to get ahead in life, you must quit your job and become your own boss. Many authors and bloggers have made that dubious claim, and while it may be true for some, there’s no way to know until after you’ve taken the plunge.
The truth is that most of us are simply not cut out for entrepreneurship. Whether it’s running a startup, owning a small business or being self-employed, anyone who’s been there will tell you that each of those scenarios has its own set of challenges and stresses. And there simply is no data or logic to support the assumption that you or anyone else will be better off one way or the other.
Besides, I know there are countless employees at companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and hundreds of great companies that love their jobs and do extremely well for themselves. Likewise, I wouldn’t trade my 23-year career in the high-tech industry for anything. And yet, entrepreneur mania has gripped an entire generation.
When people abandon critical thinking, they make bad life decisions and fuel overhyped fads. When business leaders do it, the results can spell disaster.
We often talk about the perils of hubris, but when CEOs who are smart enough to know better crash and burn, it’s usually because they let their overblown egos overrule their intellect. They ignore logic and reason in favor of magical thinking. They draw erroneous conclusions based on unsupported beliefs. They let overconfidence veto their better judgement. That’s how many companies fail.
If you want to know how the best CEOs make critical decisions on behalf of their companies, it comes down to critical thinking. These CEOs tell their management teams to be completely honest and forthcoming. They ask lots of questions. They ask for all the data. They challenge assumptions. They let them hash it out. They listen carefully. Sometimes they seek advice from trusted mentors. Finally, they trust their gut and make the final call. That’s how the great ones make good decisions. So should you.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist and author of “Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur.” He runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com.