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Why Innovation Needs Critical Thinking

The ever-insightful Farnam Street blog has posted a useful article on critical thinking, with interesting implications on why we need it in innovation.

Too often, we use so called “insights” to drive innovation, when these “insights” are in reality nothing more than half-baked ideas plucked from focus groups, surveys or the prejudices of researchers.  Critical thinking means systematically subjecting ideas to criticism before elevating them to the status of insights.  By implication, the Farnam blog suggests that innovators need 5 key abilities:

1. The ability to think empirically, not theoretically. We need to constantly check our views against evidence from the real world, and have the courage to change positions if better explanations come along. …

2. The ability to think in terms of multiple, rather than single, causes. Most things in the world have multiple causes; consumer preferences are forged by experience, culture, and psychology.

3. The ability to think in terms of the sizes of things, rather than only in terms of their direction. A trend may be growing fast, but from a small base – and still be insignificant.  Something growing at 1000% is probably a sign it’s insignificant.

4. The ability to think like foxes, not hedgehogs. The simple hedgehog, knows one big thing and applies that understanding to everything around them, whilst foxes, who know many small things and pragmatically apply a “grab bag” of knowledge to make modest predictions about the world. Evidence shows that foxes make better predictions and decisions

5. The ability to understand one’s own biases. As behavioral economics drums into us time after time, our thinking is full of biases – and we need to de-bias it.  When you know you are susceptible to the confirmation bias – seeking our information to confirm your prejudices you can takes steps to deal with it.

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