#8. If you can’t extrapolate or think critically you might not survive

Summary: Learn how extrapolating your knowledge and applying it to other fields can help you achieve breakthroughs and overcome plateaus.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Imagine that you could only do things according to the instructions. No variance or change at all. If you read instructions on how to cook macaroni noodles, you can’t apply them to fettuccine. If you learn to drive a truck, you can’t drive a car. This would be…ridiculous.

Yet many of us live our lives just that way. We study a field and apply the knowledge only within that field. We learn a skill and only use it as intended. Following the rules with no deviation.

Reading instructions and following them exactly is a good thing in many situations. But, to achieve something big, you need to learn to extrapolate.

What does extrapolate mean?

I like Merriam-Webster’s second definition for extrapolate:

to project, extend, or expand (known data or experience) into an area not known or experienced so as to arrive at a usually conjectural knowledge of the unknown area

Basically it means that if I know how to cook macaroni, I can figure out how to cook fettuccine. I can use knowledge that I’ve acquired previously to succeed at something I’ve never done before, at least hypothetically.

Scientists extrapolate data all the time. It’s how they form hypothesis. It’s how many great ideas become reality. Without extrapolation, learning and knowledge would be stagnant.

Yet on a day-to-day basis, we fail to extrapolate our knowledge. We search for instructions online to solve our problems instead of thinking critically.

Instructions are fine if you’re happy doing what’s been done before. But, to create something new you need to learn to extrapolate what you know and apply it to what you don’t.

How to improve your extrapolation skills and critical thinking

Breakthrough ideas and genius insights are the result of deep, deep thinking. Never scratch the surface of an idea when you can tear it to shreds and understand its true core.

Becoming a deep think is possible for anyone. It’s just a matter of refining your approach and practicing a little.

You will get better at extrapolating knowledge and critical thinking if you:

  • Ask yourself questions constantly. Why is it done this way? How could it be improved? Where else is this true? Why does it matter?
  • Brainstorm with a pen and paper. Use word associations, mind maps, diagrams, and lists to organize your thoughts. Seek out the core concept instead of the details.
  • Apply it to an unrelated field. Consider all the ways that the concepts you’ve learned could be used in a totally unrelated field. Are there any natural breakthroughs?
  • Run experiments. If you have an idea, try it. See if it really works.
  • Teach someone else. Or at least pretend to. Teaching others is the best way to learn a topic yourself and you’ll learn it at a much deeper level than you would otherwise.

Do these things whenever you learn a new skill or concept. Take it to a deeper level and you’ll quickly see your analytical abilities improve.

Extrapolaters think on their feet and make breakthroughs happen. If you want to be a survivor in a competitive industry, then it’s time to learn how to extrapolate.


  • Use the knowledge you already have to make educated guesses or give yourself a headstart in unrelated fields.
  • Learn to think critically and use that super power all the time.
  • Write on paper, read books, and get stuck in your head imagining the unknown.

About The Content Reactor

We’re a writing and strategy firm in Minneapolis, MN. We love learning, extrapolating, and teaching others. Won’t you let us help you write something?