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How to Escape the Critical Thinking Trap and Have Better Ideas

We spend most of our lives learning how to be excellent critical thinkers. At school, we learn how to evaluate information objectively, to justify our arguments with quantifiable data and (especially) to find and eliminate weaknesses

Then we enter the workplace and the pressure intensifies. When you have to focus on the bottom line, it’s harder than ever to take risks. Crazy ideas could waste time or resources. There’s the added pressure of having to prove whether a new idea is worthwhile for your company to pursue.

The Critical Thinking Trap

By the time we’re adults, we’re used to examining every idea through a magnifying glass. Whenever we have a new idea, we immediately start thinking:

  • What’s wrong with it?
  • Why won’t this work?
  • What parts of this idea are unacceptable?
  • How much will this cost?
  • Who else has already done something similar—and been unsuccessful?

Notice how none of those questions are about what is positive about the idea! And it’s even easier to go down the critical thinking path if you’re evaluating someone else’s idea!)

The big trouble is that of us don’t even notice that we do this. It’s so easy and natural to jump into critical thinking mode that everyone does it immediately. And we think we’re being helpful with every idea we shoot down.

The Key to Better Ideas

We’re so used to thinking critically that it’s our default approach. But the solution is easy: learn to see the good in every idea.

Positive thinking is all about asking:

  • What’s really good about this idea?
  • How could we make it work?
  • What parts can I build on to come up with an even better idea?

When we start looking for potential in each idea, each idea becomes a jumping off point instead of a dead end.

An Easy Positive Thinking Hack

To train your brain to find the good in every idea, try using a thinking technique named Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI).

The concept is very simple. Here’s what you do:

  1. (P) List all the positive aspects of the idea — even if you hate the idea.
  2. (M) List the negative aspects of the idea— even if you love the idea.
  3. (I)  List any interesting thoughts that came up that are not positive or negative.

This works because it forces us to balance our original (usually critical) thinking about an idea’s value with a look at the other side.

Success Tips:

  1. Before you start, decide upon a set number of positive points you will write down (like 10 positives and 10 negatives) and to stick to that goal. An ambitious number will make you stretch to see benefits of any idea.
  2. Make sure you list the positive things about an idea first. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to get stuck thinking critically.

PMI looks easy, and like something you already do, but it’s not.  Usually, we focus only on the positives or negatives about an idea and only give the other aspects a glance.

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