Critical thinking is an essential skill to master whether you aspire to compete in the fast-paced startup space or just improve your daily workflow. But no one is born a master problem solver. Like any other skill, you’ll need to study and practice.
When it comes to self-study, all the Wikipedia articles and Quora questions in the world can’t replace a good book. We asked GLOBIS faculty members to weigh in on the books that helped them step-up their critical thinking game.
Decipher the Data
Do you ever feel so lost in data that you forget what you’re looking for in the first place? Do you find it difficult to parse the important details from large sets of data? Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise will help you sift through the numbers and find what’s most useful for your purposes.
In the GLOBIS Critical Thinking course, we teach that the most important step of the problem-solving process is identifying the issue. After that, you’ll need to break down the issue into a set of points (like criteria). Finally, you search for data to support or change these points.
The Signal and the Noise applies this process to the realm of predictions in the age of Big Data.
Ultimately, Silver cautions against overconfidence in predictions, ranging from the stock market to sports and politics, and the importance of assessing the level of certainty in your findings. He also points to the often-hidden assumptions in data—another important lesson you’ll find in GLOBIS’s Critical Thinking class. What makes this book exciting is the way it explores current issues in a quantitative way, challenging what we thought to be true and the prediction process behind it. Aside from that, there are many other tips and tricks to improve your problem-solving and data analysis skills.
While I can’t claim to make many predictions, if you’re looking to hone your critical thinking skills, I can say with confidence that you’ll enjoy this book!
—Brian Cathcart, Critical Thinking Faculty at GLOBIS University
Think about the Way You Think
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
What if you found out you had a disease with a 10% mortality rate? Would it be worse than a disease with a 90% survival rate? In fact, your chances of making it through are precisely the same, but somehow, we tend to respond more positively to the latter scenario.
This is an example of the framing effect, one of many biases and heuristics introduced in Daniel Kahneman’s bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, presents decades of fascinating insights into our not-so-rational minds. He elegantly summarizes our thinking into two processes: System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is effortless and instantaneous, handling thoughts like 2+2=4. It is our autopilot that guides us through most of the day, allowing us to simultaneously manage complex tasks like driving a car while chatting with the passenger about the morning news.
System 2, on the other hand, is a process that we have to manually switch on to tackle something more mentally challenging. System 1 can handle 2+2 instantly, but System 2 needs to kick in for us to work out 27×18.
Kahneman’s mind-blowing research and simple tests show us just how laughably irrational System 1 can be. It is a powerful reminder of why it’s worth questioning our own judgment.
Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Fooled by Randomness offers a narrower, but still powerful illustration of how the flaws of our thinking habits skew our worldview. In a precursor to his bestseller The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb focuses on the role of randomness in our lives, and how underestimating this randomness can have potentially serious consequences.
In business, it’s generally unpopular to ascribe results to luck. Countless books and articles seek to explain the genius behind the success of certain companies and businesspeople. And when results go sour, people point to poor decisions that should have been avoided.
Compelling as it may be, this storytelling misleads us into believing that we control much more than we do. Taleb argues that luck, in fact, plays a large role in any success, and smart decisions can lead to poor outcomes (hard as it may be to convince your boss or shareholders).
Taleb’s tone throughout the book is often cynical and scathing, and he is clearly not a fan of MBAs. But his message is still important for any businessperson who wants to keep their feet on the ground. As I often tell MBA students in my Critical Thinking course, even the most thorough analysis and planning cannot guarantee success. However, critical thinking can help us reduce the role of luck in our decision-making. Ultimately, that will increase our odds of success.
—Jake Pratley, Critical Thinking Faculty at GLOBIS University
Learn from Those Who Came Before You
Problem Solving 101, by Ken Watanabe
The Japanese bestseller Problem Solving 101 is quite easy to read, since it’s targeted towards an elementary school level. Don’t let that deter you, though—the content itself covers practical elements in business, from diagnosing the situation to identifying root causes and decision-making.
During these uncertain times, it’s getting harder and harder to make confident decisions. We tend to rely on our past experiences and knowledge rather than asses the issues at hand. But if you face unprecedented events, you’ll require the right skills to identify problems and develop the right solutions to solve them. This book will help you acquire these skills.
Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, by Taiichi Ohno
Taiichi Ohno built the foundation of the famous Toyota Production System (TPS). This book dives into the background, history, and philosophy of the concepts utilized in this system, including kaizen, jido-ka, and kanban.
For example, although Toyota changed its zero-inventory policy specifically to deal with shortages of semiconductors, TPS can help improve productivity with limited resources in any industry.
This book also shows us the importance of Toyota’s philosophy—which is what really drives the popularity of TPS worldwide. Many organizations have introduced TPS into their everyday operations, but most fail to utilize the robust philosophy of the system to its full potential.
Ohno’s book may be a bit old, but its indisputable influence on the business world means it’s still more than worth reading now.
—Takashi Tsutsumi, Critical Thinking Faculty at GLOBIS University
Turn the Page on Your Critical Thinking Journey
Understanding critical thinking and problem-solving means a lot more than being the best brainstormer at the pitch meeting. It also means you can identify obstacles, overcome them, and consider the best decisions for yourself and those around you.
Ultimately, if you’re learning how to be a critical thinker, you’re also learning how to become an independent and decisive decision maker. Like a beautiful logic tree, you’ll need to nourish your mind in order to grow. A good read is a great way to get started.