Critical Thinking Tip: Act Like a Child

If you have a child, then you know how frustrating the question “why?” can be. Why do I have a bed time?   Why do I have to drink my milk?   Why do I lose my teeth?   Why are you laughing?  Why does Santa come down the chimney?  Why can’t I put orange juice in my cereal?

It can be maddening.

Children from age 3-8 ask why because they are learning cause-and-effect.   And when the answer you give lacks an explanation, children ask why again.   Have you ever tried answering a “Why” with “Because I said so?”  Shocking how that doesn’t end the discussion, isn’t it?   By the way, “I don’t know” doesn’t work any better.

When do we, as adults, lose the urge to ask why?   Have you ever made a suggestion at work and been told “that won’t work” but failed to ask why?   Have you asked for additional budget, been told no, and chose not to ask why?  If you’ve ever stood in the grocery store check out line with a toddler, you know they would ask why.   And after they ask why, they alter their request from chocolate…to gum…to candy…to suckers…to breath mints…  They will wear you down, and it works!

As adults, we would significantly improve our critical thinking skills by asking “why” more often. When you ask why, you challenge assumptions, which is the first step in the Critical Thinking RED Model.  Just think about the following business discussions and analyze the assumptions that are the foundation for each statement.

  • That won’t work.
  • We’ve tried that before.
  • My boss will say no.
  • We’ll never get funding.
  • We don’t have time.
  • No one will buy-in to it.

Why?  Why?  WHY?  If we do not ask “why” then we never challenge the underlying assumption, and fail to explore solutions via critical thinking.

So, the next time you enter a brainstorming session, don’t forget to think like a child and ask why.

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

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