“The teacher could be wrong. Think for yourselves.”
A sign with these words used to be placed in British classrooms. It is an interesting idea that any school would remind their students to challenge their teacher’s authority of the material they are teaching.
There are many trappings you can fall into when trying to think thoroughly and knowledgably about a subject or plan. Becoming entrapped in thoughtless thinking or deluded ways of thinking can cause great plans to falter and subpar plans to be pursued with gusto.
For example, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, many Japanese leaders believed that an attack on American soil would dishearten the American people and cause them to not want to enter World War II. Very few dreamed that the opposite could be true and the Pearl Harbor attacks would galvanize the American spirit and war effort and perhaps cause the United States to enter the war sooner than they might have originally.
There are six particular follies of thinking that have a way of easing into boardrooms, informal meetings and organizations. Recognizing these six follies is the most important step to eliminating them and achieving clear and informed decision-making. Do you make any of these mistakes?
Overgeneralization is probably the most common, most seductive and potentially most dangerous of all of these fallacies. Aristotle was well aware of the dangers of overgeneralization, calling it “reasoning by example,” meaning too few examples or not enough to specificity. While generalization is an important reasoning skill, overgeneralization is a danger.
Attacking the person instead of his logic or position is a very common trap — especially in legal issues or American politics. If you can’t beat someone else’s argument, attack and abuse the person who advances it.
This fallacy, meaning “thou also” or “you are another,” consists of rotating a charge upon your accuser. Instead of addressing an issue, an arguer will launch an irrelevant counter-attack.
The formal term “post hoc ergo propter hoc” means when one event precedes another event in time, the first is assumed to be the cause of the second. This fallacy can be seen prominently in medical history. For example, malaria baffled scientists for many centuries. It was observed that those who went out at night developed it, so it was wrongly reasoned that malaria was caused by night air.
This fallacy of false analogies or insufficient reasons is particularly troublesome because analogies are quite helpful. However, no analogy can conclusively prove anything. The best an analogy can do is help bring an event or topic to the magnitude of the ordinary experience. The fallacy occurs when we use an analogy in lieu of proof.
This trap, the appeal to revered authority, is embodied by our starting thought encouraging students to think for themselves. Teachers and authority figures may provide great thoughts and reinforce some ideas, but the danger here is when one ceases to think or analyze situations for themselves.
Right thinking, thinking right
So how do you think right? Simple. Observe the situation. Listen and question others.
Analyze the pros and cons. Think for yourself. Make a decision and act. The problem with this lies in the analysis. For it to lead to right thinking, right decision-making and right action you need to insert the following step.
Stop and take a deep breath. Disconnect from all media — TV, radio, the Internet, your mobile phone. Everything. Find a private, quiet spot.
If you do it right, you will hear an odd sound. It’s called silence. It’s what you need for a right-thinking analysis. Envelop yourself in that odd sound called silence. And eliminate the six meretricious follies of thoughtless thinking to achieve clear and informed decision-making. Right thinking is thinking right. There is only one way to do that; think for yourself.
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. For more info visit tomnies.cincom.com/about/