Western thinking is traditionally concerned with what is — which is determined by analysis, judgment and argument. Thinking based on this is fine, just as the front left wheel of a car is fine. Such thinking works well in a stable world.
A doctor is faced with a child who has a rash. Is it sunburn? Food allergy? Measles? The doctor examines the child and makes a judgment based on accurate knowledge and standard understanding of the past. So the course of action is clear.
But in a changing world, standard understandings no longer apply. Instead of judging, arguing or analyzing our way forward, we need to design our way forward. We need to be thinking about what can be, not just what is.
Once upon a time, a man painted half his car white and half his car black. When his friends asked him why, he replied, “Because it is such fun whenever I have an accident to hear the witnesses in court contradict each other”.
Often in an argument, both sides are right — but are looking at different aspects of the situation. Many cultures in the world regard argument as aggressive, personal and nonconstructive.
There is another aspect of thinking that involves creativity, constructive thinking and parallel thinking. We call this Critical Thinking.
With Critical Thinking, the intelligence, experience and knowledge of all members of a group are fully used. Everyone is working in the same direction.
A magnet is powerful, because all particles are aligned in the same direction. This is not the case with argument or free discussion. In argument mode, as in a court of law, each party seeks to win.
In Critical Thinking, both points of view, no matter how contradictory, are put down in parallel. Later on, if it is essential to choose between differing positions, then an attempt to choose is made at that point.
The essence of Critical Thinking is that at any moment everyone is looking in the same direction, but the direction can be changed. In normal thinking or argument, if someone says something, then others have to respond — even, if only out of politeness. In Critical Thinking, you do not respond to what the last person said. You simply add another idea until the subject is fully explored.
Ever since Freud, our emphasis has been on analysis: find out the deep truth and motivations for action. Confucius’s approach was almost the exact opposite. Confucius urged us to use the right behavior with our colleagues. Critical Thinking follows this approach rather than the analytical one.
Egos are the biggest obstacle in confrontational and adversarial thinking. People use their thinking to parade their egos or attack and put other people down. Thinking is used to show others how clever you are or to get your own way.
With Critical Thinking, you exert your ego by performing well as a Critical Thinker. Instead of rambling, ego-driven meetings, meetings are constructive, productive and much faster.
Focusing the sun’s rays can melt even the toughest of metals. In the same way, Critical Thinking will focus the mental abilities of the people in your group on even the toughest of your problems and solve them.