The Importance Of Critical Thinking. And Why Companies Should Cultivate It.

Thomas Euler
May 27, 2016 · 7 min read

“Creating standards almost turned into a reflex”

Don’t get me wrong: Standards aren’t bad in and of themselves. They can be useful tools to avoid unnecessary redundancy. Some things you can standardize with reason: generally-speaking any repetitive task in a domain that doesn’t change a lot over time. What’s problematic, though, is that we often don’t properly analyse whether creating a standard is the right tool to deal with the issue at hand. Creating standards became a standard itself. Thus, we mistake one thing for another and implement standards almost as a reflex.


Standards don’t meet the requirement anymore

All of this might have been suboptimal in the past. But it worked reasonably well for the most part. Standards failed, but they didn’t do as quickly. Change progressed at a slower speed than today. Technology develops quicker than ever. The hyper-connectedness of our world creates a new level of complexity. Therefore, questioning what we do and how we do it should become second nature to us. Regularly challenging the assumptions which guide our actions should be instilled in people and systems alike.


Companies can foster critical thinking

Now, this has several consequences for our organizations and institutions. I will focus on what it means for businesses. For two reasons:

“Hierarchy is contrary to critical thinking”

The next step is to design your structure in a way that is well aligned with the goal. In using the concept of via negativa, I will tell you what doesn’t stimulate critical thinking: Hierarchy and particularly decision-making under its terms. The moment you put only a select few in a position that allows them to make decisions, you also create a side-effect: By ‘freeing’ all the other people from making decisions, you also free them from ‘the burden of thinking’. At first, this leads to resignation and frustration. But it get’s worse: Once people get accustomed to not having a say, it creates an unwillingness to think and make decisions. Just as with thinking, making decisions is tough too. Not having to do so can be kind of comforting. Alas, life consists of making decisions.

  • A lack of open, honest feedback
  • A tendency to look away from the real problems and only tackle the symptoms (maybe a chicken-and-egg problem)
  • Incentives that work against critical thinking. For instance: Over-emphasizing deadlines. Static goals that are agreed upon once and than never changed during the course of the year. Promotions based on good behavior (that is: obeying the rules)
  • And, of course, the implementation of standards for too many things

Digital Hills

Digital Hills ist eine Publikation über digitales Business, Transformation und Innovation. Für Digital Minds, Status-quo-Veränderer und interessierte Zeitgenossen.

Thanks to Sarah Eisenmann.

Thomas Euler

Written by

Analyst, writer. At the intersection of tech, media and the digital economy. Founder of www.attentionecono.me. For more info check: www.thomaseuler.de | Munich

Digital Hills

Digital Hills ist eine Publikation über digitales Business, Transformation und Innovation. Für Digital Minds, Status-quo-Veränderer und interessierte Zeitgenossen.