BS Files #16: Critical thinking means being critical

The BS Files are kinda like the X-files – full of myths and urban legends and mysterious things. I feel that it is my duty to tackle them (occasionally). Because, you know, the truth is out there.

Case #16. Critical thinking means being critical. Bullsh*t!

First, let’s get rid of the connection between critical thinking and criticizing. It’s tough, I know, especially for anyone who has had to do any kind of scholarly criticism. So let’s just suspend disbelief for now and pretend that we believe that zombies are real so that we can enjoy the movie, okay?!?

Okay, now, back to the show. I used to work with a woman who drove me nuts. Let’s call her Amy. I was on several projects with her, and so that meant lots of meetings with her. It seemed that no matter what our topic was -whether it was planning for the next steps, making tactical decisions, reviewing documents or whatever, she would always derail the meeting with her “yeah, buts” or “what ifs” – I thought she was always being critical.

I would try and try to prepare for the Amy factor, but no joy. She always found a potential flaw or a risk (real or imagined) in our work. It got to the point that I dreaded being on the same team.

Amy was taught that critical thinking meant looking for – and discovering – the weaknesses in an approach. One of the key skills in critical thinking is problem solving. Amy believed that her role  was that of critical thinker, so she would make up problems so that she could add value by solving them. Once I realized that, it was a lot easier for me to be on a project with Amy, because I saw her as a person who wanted to add value. Of course!

But back to the BS part. Amy isn’t alone. Lots of people think that the value of critical thinking is in finding the flaws. They then think that being critical is a good thing, because it’s part of critical thinking. Being the one who finds problems is a good thing.

Okay, sometimes it is a good thing. But more often it leads to a lack of accountability: I just raise problems, I don’t solve them. That’s not my job. I’m not responsible for solutions. If I only see problems and don’t train myself to look for solutions, I am training my brain to live as a victim. No, really. That’s what victimhood is – believing that we are at the mercy of someone else to solve all our problems.

Personal responsibility is power and evolution. When we take responsibility, we are no longer victims. It’s important as leaders and even more so in our personal lives.

Truth: Critical thinking doesn’t mean being critical. Problem solving is just one of the critical thinking skills, not the only one. Critical thinking skills also include analysis, interpretation, explanation, open-mindedness, awareness of bias and conditioning. Yes, problem solving is in there, too, but the emphasis is on SOLVING the problem, not just SEEING it.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!

Love and light,



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