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Warren Buffett’s Best-Kept Secret to Achieving Massive Success: Critical Thinking

Warren Buffett’s Best-Kept Secret to Achieving Massive Success: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are essential to success — any kind of success. Successful individuals are thinkers and they surround themselves with thinkers.

Consider Warren Buffett. He is known as the most successful investor of all time, and by his own estimate, he has spent 80 percent of his career reading.[1] And what makes him so successful is that he isn’t willing to be a passive recipient of what he reads. Instead, he schedule time to evaluate the information he gets so as to form his own insights. This may sound counterproductive. We’ve been taught to work more, sleep less, and hyper-focus on the things that directly pertain to our goals. We call it being productive. Buffett and those like him find thinking, reading, and contemplating more productive than taking meetings and “working.” He actively pursues knowledge.

Why people with strong critical thinking skills like Warren Buffett are more likely to succeed

Critical thinking involves being able to process information independently and to think clearly, logically, and reflectively. It is the ability to engage in rational thought and to understand and establish a connection between ideas. In essence, critical thinking is the ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.[2]

They always question the status quo

The status quo is the current state of affairs. It’s the norm. It’s how things are done. You know you’ve found it when you hear the phrase,“We’ve always done it this way.” Critical thinkers ask questions such as, “Why do we do it that way?” “How can we make it better?” “What are our other options?”

They break down problems into smaller components and see the subtle connections between them

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They love to test boundaries. They dissect issues and then find a way to systematically solve them. By examining the individual pieces of a problem they are able to apply solutions that create a domino or cascading effect. They solve one issue which effects another issue and are able to solve them both simultaneously.

They are sensitive to the loopholes in their logic 

Critical thinkers ruthlessly question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments, and conclusions represent the entire picture. They do not rely heavily on intuition and instinct. They test, prove, and disprove their hunches.

We are all fallible. Critical thinkers understand this and actively work to find the flaws in their own logic. One’s ability to think critically varies according to his/her current state of mind. Thinkers work to maintain objectivity, view the problem from all possible angles, and seek the input of others who are adept in logic and reasoning.

They tackle problems with a systematic plan

A system is designed to streamline and simplify processes. It improves effectiveness and makes effort more efficient. Most critical thinkers use a top down approach to problem solving. They are systematic in their efforts. They also set aside time for investigating challenging issues and brainstorming ways to push through them. They don’t tackle a problem without a plan.

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They apply the scientific method to problem solving

Critical thinkers are usually highly methodical. They approach a problem the same way a scientist would and then move through the phases of the scientific method, conducting experiments to prove and disprove their hypotheses. Each experiment provides insight into the problem and proves or eliminates an idea or solution.

3 steps to improve your critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is a skill set, meaning it can be learned. Learning to think critically often involves tweaking some of our processes instead of merely trying to adjust our way of thinking. If you do things a certain way, your thinking will follow a certain pattern. You will begin to develop the habit of thinking practically and then critically. Developing this skill takes deliberate practice and persistence.

Here are three steps to get you started:

1. Recognize the biases in your thinking

Biases are common. We all have them. However, our biases lead to fallacies in our thought processes and rob us of our objectivity. The most common and detrimental bias is the confirmation bias- our tendency to see what we want to see. We tend to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

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To cure confirmation bias, experts[3] suggest that inundating yourself with information is not the answer. It’s all about how you filter the information you do have. When you don’t selectively filter information, you lose your objectivity which is the heart of logical thinking. This particular prejudice is most prevalent in emotionally- charged situations and when you have something to lose. It also shows up when wishful thinking is present.

For example, in the middle of basketball season the home town team has a record that is below 500 and has been on a seven game losing streak. The star player has just gone out with a torn ACL and your friend says to you, “I know in my heart that our home team will win the NBA Championship.”

This statement disregards the facts–or at the very least, fails to consider them– and makes a prediction based on a feeling.

Here are a few ways to overcome confirmation bias:

  • When you recognize a bias don’t abandon your initial hypothesis right away. It may be completely or even partially correct. Test your theory.
  • Keep an open mind. Work on trying to come up with alternatives no matter how far-fetched they may seem. Test all of your ideas.
  • Embrace surprises. Don’t discount them or get discouraged. The unexpected happens. Use this new “surprising” information to your advantage.

2. Use 5 “Whys” to find out the root causes of problems

The “Five Whys” methodology, developed by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota), uses a”go and see” philosophy. This turns the decision-making process into a search for a solution that is based on an in-depth understanding of what’s actually happening. This method simply involves asking, “Why?” five times, allowing you to dig deeper each time. The goal is to drill down and find the core of the issue.

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Here’s a quick example:

The problem you are attempting to solve is that customers are complaining that when they receive merchandise they purchased online it does not match what they ordered (they are getting incorrect items, sizes, etc.).

  • Why are customers receiving the wrong products? Because the shipping company’s warehouse shipped products that are different from what the customers ordered.
  • Why did the shipping company warehouse ship different products than what was ordered? Because the personnel filling the online orders called the order in and gave it to the warehouse via telephone to expedite shipping. Errors were made during this process.
  • Why are the online order fillers calling in orders instead of using the normal process? Because each shipping order has a slip that must be signed by the shipping directory before it is put into the system and sent to the warehouse.
  • Why does each order slip have to be signed by the shipping director before it is shipped? Because the shipping director records the information for his weekly reports to the company CEO.
  • Why does the shipping director have to record the information for each order this way? Because he does not know how to generate the report using the system the order fillers use to send their orders to the warehouse.

Using this process, we were able to locate the breakdown in the process around the third “why.” Asking “Why?” the last two times generated our solution: train the shipping director to use the existing software to generate his reports for the CEO.

3. Treat each problem like an experiment

Using the scientific method to solve problems is an effective and efficient mental model for solving problems. Most people approach problems haphazardly and dive into the middle of the issues and become overwhelmed or miss key elements. Following a process allows you to establish a habit. Remember critical thinking is a skill that requires practice and persistence. Start at the beginning of the process every single time. Here are the steps:

  • Define the problem. Ask a question to discover what the true issue is.
  • Do background research. Gather information.
  • Construct a hypothesis. Make a prediction based on what you know so far, being careful to account for confirmation bias.
  • Conduct experiments. Test your hypothesis. Apply the “Five Whys” methodology when necessary.
  • Analyze your data and draw a conclusion. Analyze the results of your experiments and put them to the test. Are there any other possible solutions? If so, test them out.
  • Communicate your results. Present your solution along with your research and evidence.

Always reflect on and review your processes. It helps you to find gaps in your thinking and to adjust. Reflection helps develop objectivity.

With time, practice, and diligence using these three steps your critical thinking process will become a habit. You’ll be able to better predict results, anticipate pitfalls, and avoid biased thinking.

Reference

More by this author

Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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