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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.

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Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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