Do you know how to think? On the importance of learning logic in the digital era.
The question could be insulting to a manager. How can I not know how to think if I studied a career, climbed in the organization, and make decisions all the time? In addition, everyone knows that even a child’s brain is a super powerful thinking machine, so full of surprises that the MIT has a research laboratory to study it. In an interesting TED talk, Professor Laura Schulz goes on to say that no artificial intelligence algorithm can compete with a baby in many brain tasks. If a baby’s mind is so sophisticated, what about a mature adult?
Yet, the story is full of leaders who, at some point in their life, have failed miserably. And not only by defects of character or virtue (pride, for example, blinds the most intelligent human beings); also by faulty reasoning. Unfortunately, there are many political and business leaders who make decisions of extraordinary importance with arguments that are clearly fallacious. The conclusion should be that there are people really “dumb”, judging by the things they say and do.
However, conversations with friends or colleagues in a relaxed and respectful environment will show us that the vast majority “know how to think”. In this sense, perhaps the most appropriate question would be: can we learn to think better?
I will never forget the conversation with a student, an industrial engineer from one of the best schools in the country, who told me something like “in your classes, when I say something and a classmate discusses my idea, he almost always convinces me. As I am not an expert in Marketing, the arguments of the other part usually sound reasonable to me, and I do not know how to respond. I realize that I lack something in my training, beyond the theory of marketing”
It seemed to me a very intelligent reflection that also showed a great humility. At that time, I had started to read several books on logic, a subject that today is hardly studied in colleges and universities. The concern of this student opened a panorama on which later I have reflected a lot, although in some topics much is never enough. I realized that this person had been taught extensively on integrals, derivatives, polynomials and physical principles, but no logic. Probably, compared to his peers, he was more prepared on many aspects, but he had a great deficit: he could not argue.
It is curious how some intelligent people and of some success in the business world suffer from this capacity: they cannot argue in an orderly and effective way. Sometimes it happens because they do not know how to listen. Other times because the take any counteridea as a personal attack. These are defects of character. But there are also those who do not know how to ask, detect a certain fallacy, understand what someone else is saying, or build their own arguments. And I dare not say they are not intelligent. They simply lack training in the art of logic. Probably, most members of our generation lack it to a greater or smaller extent.
Business schools and also many colleges and universities have launched public speaking courses. In my opinion, although I see great merit in these initiatives, I find it much more important to help people find the truth than to convince others. Because, let’s not forget, we can convince many in error. How will the future be in our post truth era, where so many false news circulate, young people are 3 hours a day connected to a smartphone, and many discuss only at the stroke of a tweet, if we do not know how to think?
If we do not learn to think, to think better, we will be the prey of populist or nationalist politicians who, as the Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater puts it, “want us to be smaller so that we become more of their own.” If we do not know how to think, a friend will convince us on a bad idea, an idea that could mark our existence forever. If we do not know how to think, we will not know how to get out of our mistakes or out of passionate beliefs and habits. If we do not know how to think, how will we make good decisions as managers?
Learning to think is not a guarantee of finding the truth; it is also necessary to cultivate the garden of our virtues. Without humility, without being sincere with ourselves, without love and respect to our neighbor, any neighbor, no matter how much logic we learn, it is very likely that we will end up using it in a deformed way.
In short, without knowing how to think we will be less free and worse leaders.