Primer on Critical Thinking vs. a Focus on VUCA

Posted by Kristin Arnold on May 21, 2024

I bought the book, “Outsmarting VUCA: Achieving Success in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous World” by Don Gilman because we are truly living in a VUCA world. While the book gives a nod to VUCA, it is really a very simplistic book about critical thinking.

While some of the stories are a bit outdated (or ones that I have heard for YEARS), the basic principles of critical thinking are well told without being too nerdy.

The flow of the book makes complete sense:

1) Why critical thinking is important in a VUCA world. (Duh!)

2) Common errors in thinking – recognize your biases (we all have them) and ensure they don’t negatively impact your ability to make the best decision possible. Biases such as:

  • The Atmospheric Effect where you cloud the issue with extremes such as “all,” “none,” “everybody” etc.
  • The Belief Bias of believing that the situation will be the same the next time you encounter it.
  • Wishful Thinking which is the belief that something will happen just because you really want it to. (The Field of Dreams – if you build it, they will come!)
  • The Confirmation Bias which looks only at evidence that supports a decision you’ve made or a conclusion you want to reach.
  • The Gambler’s Bias believes that since an event hasn’t occurred for some time, it probably won’t happen anytime soon; or since an event occurred recently, it won’t repeat anytime soon; or since it has occurred recently, it is now more likely to occur again; or since it hasn’t occurred recently, it’s due!
  • Overreliance on Personal Experience is about not recognizing the limits of your own knowledge or experience – that it is more valid than other data.
  • Ignoring the Losing Proposition – This is what I call the “sunk cost” bias where you feel you have to continue to invest time, energy, money, and resources. Since you have already invested so much into the decision you keep going because you have wishful thinking that it’s going to pay off at some point.
  • Insufficient Sample Size the data you are relying on to make a good decision is insufficient to arrive at the conclusion due to the relatively small sample size.
  • Focus Blindness – where you are so focused on one piece of the problem that you miss other pieces of it.

3) Common patterns of weak arguments of others in verbal discussion

  • The Slippery Slope of painting such a dire picture that the other person will agree
  • The Bandwagon where you want to be like everyone else and not left out. (FOMO!)
  • The False Dichotomy where there are only two choices and no other alternatives
  • The Red Herring is a diversionary tactic meant to distract the conversation from the key issue.
  • Circular Reasoning which is the argument that restates the conclusion rather than actually proving the conclusion
  • Ad hoc reasoning is the attempt to persuade at any cost
  • Ad hominem is the rejection of a proposal based on where it comes from – attacking the arguer, not the argument

4) A process to think through decisions individually

  • Create an environment that is free of distractions
  • Set a deadline
  • Think differently by assuming various roles such as The Detective, The Gut Check, The Naysayer, and The Optimist
  • Ratchet it up with these roles: The Creative, The Organizer
  • Create Plan B
  • Check yourself by using a lifeline/phone a friend and imagine your decision under public scrutiny

5) A process to think through decisions as a team – same as the individual, but you can do it with a series approach, in parallel, or a “dialogue approach” where you talk to different people outside of a group setting and ask those people to assume the different roles.

6) An action plan to assess your ability to think critically.

It’s not the best book on critical thinking, but it certainly is a good quick read to remind you of some best practices to make better decisions.

Related Articles:

Critical Thinking: Painting or Tainting Your Team Solutions

Strategic Planning in a VUCA World

Book Review: Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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