Critical Thinking, Survival and Evolution
When this edition of the newsletter gets released, you will be one of the 50 odd readers who would be reading this article. I would like to start by provoking this thought – have you ever wondered how evolution has chosen you in different ways to be one of those reading this? I have always been fascinated by how each of us ended up in an organization, competing thousands of years against many other human subspecies, generations of human races, multiple classes of society which were economically different from yours, other geographically vibrant Indians, students of other colleges, our collegemates to get to the career which we always wanted. All this takes you to that corner desk that you so wonderfully have maintained, or eventually that boss’ cabin that you covet to get to.
This article has many inspirations, the prominent one being “How did we get here? “ of last month’s Trouvaille edition by Syam, and my learnings and observations over a long period. I would like to focus on how our survival in the near future and long term depends on critically evaluating the information that reaches us and using it as knowledge for our survival and for the larger benefit of future generations. Survival per se can be at many levels, from an appraisal at work to a life and death catastrophic situation.
By no means is this a guide to survival, but I do intend to light that lamp which may help you take that path by using certain pointers from “How did we get here?”. MELIORATE RANJITH VIJAYAN Have you ever wondered why you start with certain colleagues and they have an exponential growth while you always felt yours to be very normal or at times mediocre? I have had such phases in career and at that point, I should admit that I never understood the reason behind it.
Shyam talked about this in “How did we get here?” – “We didn’t have the necessary mindset, attitude or knowledge to appreciate the value of the information we were getting. I had accidentally discovered this.“ If you look, the multitude of information you have around you is scary. This dangerous flow is also very exciting once you have the knack to crack it. Now, the milliondollar question is, how? The faster you crack the better off you are. And that is why some compatriots are better off than you, much earlier than you. No pressure there, once you figure out your sweet spot, success is just a stone’s throw away.
In my early years as a keen learner, if I had to know in detail about what I wanted, I usually visit the nearby library and spot the related section. The next activity is read through the prefaces of books that belong to related topics. Often, hours of structured searches resulted in no real knowledge. At the dead-end of research, we usually had to go back and talk to someone with a better direction to get pointers for a different approach to learn and then repeat the earlier step.
This was tedious, but it was also exciting and scientific to the point that we were confident enough to crack any grey areas we had, once the situation demands it.
Things have changed and information is dime-a-dozen now with the age of fiber powered fast internet. It has also made a lot of our work easier because of the structured approach we had on information processing from our teenage years in the 90s. The years of penance to build this patience for analysis (the library being one of many such examples) has helped many from the ageold generation get the clarity that is demanded in an information-overloaded environment. This clarity as we understood later was the progeny of structured critical thinking that we utilized to process information and bookmark as and when required.
Critical thinking and processing of information into packages of bookmarked knowledge is a big key to excel in everything. There are multiple techniques available for this and adopting one which suits yourself would be a great way to star. I hope this is a starter to everyone who has not yet identified the biggest challenge to evolve and survive – which is critical thinking and factdriven decision making by processing information which we can access and create knowledge chunks. Shyam did mention in his “How did we get here?” that – “Critical thinking skills are severely lacking in the general population” and I am very sure that setting yourself apart over here is the key to survival and eventual excellence.
A few examples of where critical thinking can be applied: A student confidently and correctly explaining exactly to his or her peers the methodology used to reach a particular conclusion, or why and how a certain methodology or standard of proof was applied. An applicant preparing for a job interview, thinking about how to explain his or her particular skills and experiences in a way that will be relevant and of value to the prospective employer.
A manager trying to be as objective as possible when settling a dispute by summarizing the alternatives, with fairness to all sides to a disagreement. A person running a small business trying to anticipate the possible economic and human consequences of various ways to increase sales or reduce costs. A master sergeant and a captain working out the tactical plans for a dangerous military mission.
So, how do we coach ourselves on Critical Thinking? I don’t have to say another word on it as Syam explained it in “How did we get here?” through this one paragraph – ”It is the fact that if you have an overall idea of what we are trying to learn and the inter-connections, it is less overwhelming to learn. It wouldn’t feel like you are hopelessly lost anymore. Granted, it requires some effort. But anything worth doing requires some effort.”
This means of learning which results in your survival also contributes to the preservation of your genes and its subsequent evolution through to your next generations. If you were interested in the evolution of the species of the world, you would understand how their learning to survival was critical to maintaining their gene pool. What we do right now in our career and life is a narrow screenshot of the same process which would eventually trigger the improvements in our next generation and the survival of our gene pool.
While concepts are always exciting, it is the action that reaps results. There are a million possibilities to approach a problem statement and it is exciting to find many solutions to anything. How we can sharpen our intellectual quotient to find solutions are only limited by our capacity to think. Expand the limits of your mind and the world is yours to conquer.