Previous articles in this series focused on the six qualities of the mind we focus on in our work. These qualities are useful in and of themselves, but their main value is that they set a foundation for our ability to implement clear-thinking skills.
Yes, emotional intelligence matters, and it is important that we all work to develop empathy, an awareness of our own emotional states, and the ability to both deepen those states and manage them. Intellect without emotional intelligence is dry and limited in its effectiveness.
However, our emotional states are informed by our discernment and our thoughts shape our emotions. Skillful thinking skills are critical for the development of emotional intelligence.
Further, clear-thinking is what allows us to see the world more accurately, to develop an ability to recognize and effectively overcome the challenges and obstacles—large and small—that we face every day.
Getting through life successfully is dependent on our ability to see ourselves, others, and the world around us as clearly as possible.
In the articles to follow, we will share excerpts from my book “How to Think Well, and Why: The Awareness to Action Guide to Clear Thinking,” which is available from amazon.com in both paperback and e-book.
THE NEED: It is not in our nature to think clearly. A complex world demands that we do.
There is an entertaining experiment that trainers do when trying to make a point about self-perception: simply ask people in the group to raise their hand if they think they are an above-average driver. Invariably, a significant majority of hands will go up.
This happens in group after group. You can ask yourself the same question as you read this, and chances are you are mentally raising your hand as well.
Obviously, a significant majority of people cannot be above-average drivers—in any given activity, half of us need to be below average. Therefore, at least some of us are fooling ourselves.
I get a similar response when I ask people if they believe they think more clearly than the average person—almost everyone thinks they are logical, rational, and good at telling truth from falsehood. Most of us believe we think more clearly than the average person, but again, at least some of us must be wrong.
Further, even being a better-than-average thinker does not mean we are particularly good at thinking clearly because, in general, humans are not very good at this important activity. We don’t always use logic, we allow our emotions to override our reason, we seek easy and simplistic answers for complicated questions.
We don’t do these things because we are bad people, or even because we are particularly lazy—we do it because we are limited to using the brains that we have inherited from our ancestors, but we live with very different circumstances than they did.
Our distant ancestors lived in dangerous-but-relatively simple times. Their daily agenda was uncomplicated: find food, don’t get eaten by a predator or killed by a rival, make babies. Our brains evolved in response to this environment, an environment where action and decisiveness were useful, but subtlety and complete accuracy were not critical. (More about this later.)
We do, of course, have the capacity to be logical and rational and to increase the accuracy of our conclusions, but it does not come as naturally to us as we might think. Thus, we need to learn, practice, and use tools for clear-thinking that may feel unnatural to us.
And those tools have never been more important: We live in a world where we are bombarded by false or misleading information that comes to us unbidden via the apps on our cell phones, where hucksters try to sell us unnecessary or even dangerous products on our televisions, and where politicians try to confuse us into complacency. We must be armed to defend ourselves from this onslaught.
In addition to protecting ourselves from others, we must learn to protect ourselves from our own biases, ignorance, and incorrect assumptions if we want to be good citizens, protect ourselves or our families, or run prosperous businesses.
This short guide is a first step in learning how to do just that.
THE NEED FOR LEADERS: Success in the market relies on effective decision-making; effective decision-making relies on clear thinking.
I work with leaders as an executive coach and leadership-development consultant. The most-effective leaders I work with all understand the importance of good clear-thinking skills, and they all complain that those skills need to be taught more broadly.
The best leaders know that they have a particular responsibility to develop the skills of clear thinking and they work diligently at doing so. They know that every leader has the responsibility for the well-being of the people they lead. The leader of a company has a responsibility to protect the company, its employees, and its customers. The leader of a team has a responsibility for the people who report to him or her, and to the families of those people who depend on the company for their financial security.
Every decision, every choice, every judgment leaders make is influenced by their ability to think well and see the world as it is rather than how they want it to be or wish it were.
If you want to be a leader, you need to develop clear-thinking skills. Failing to do so, or neglecting the daily effort to be diligent in telling fact from fiction, is an abdication of leadership responsibility.
THE SOLUTION: A structured approach to developing tools for clear thinking.
We can develop the skills for clear thinking using the five abilities of Awareness to Action (ATA) Clear-Thinking Framework.
Those five abilities are:
- The ability to establish antidotes and guardrails to help protect us from our non-conscious biases.
- The ability to rewrite our internal narratives in a way that both uses and helps overcome our habitual personality patterns.
- The ability to recognize and address cultural factors that can limit our perspective.
- The ability to create a plan for broad learning that reduces our ignorance.
- The ability to intellectually cut through the sea of misinformation we encounter each day.
This series (and the book it is based on) are an introduction to both the obstacles to clear thinking and the skills and tools needed to develop these five abilities.