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The Thinking Persons’ Olympics

As Calgary debates making a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, as mere mortals we can only guess at the dedication, athleticism, sacrifices and mental fortitude required by the elite athletes to be at the apex of their particular sport.

Whether it being flinging yourself and your team mates down an ice covered chute in little more than a dustbin or launching yourself down a near vertical mountain with nothing but a couple of planks of wood strapped to your feet, the spectacle is riveting as the athletes push themselves to bigger, longer, higher and faster records.

Of course it is generally agreed that the mental part of any sporting activity is as important as the physical attributes required. Good thinking skills help at any level of sports from amateur up to the heroes we are currently watching at the professional level. The mental element is even more important in the modern games because often the physical abilities between athletes are very minor and it is the way the athletes think and use good judgment that will make the biggest differences and bring home the gold. In fact, the better your mental skills are, the better your physical skills. How you think at a very basic level can have a profound effect on maximizing your physical skills.

Critical thinking required within sports is also a critical success factor for modern business leaders. We define critical thinking as “the use of cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome”.

The difficulty of coaching, practicing and eventually mastering critical thinking can be daunting and for some academics the view is that mastering critical thinking is about as difficult as becoming fluent in a second language, in part, because humans are not naturally critical.

Away from the glamour of the Winter Olympics and in the real world of our leadership endeavors, critical-thinking skills are needed because we are required to grapple with complex issues, and ill-defined problems. There are numerous complex problems in business that often require leaders to use critical thinking when arriving at viable solutions to problems.

As leaders we need to understand how to incorporate the components of critical thinking into the overall process of the way we think, thereby we will be better able to effectively arrive at solutions to problems. Like learning that second language, critical thinking comes from practice and more practice. As we become proficient in the skill, we will default to critical thinking when the pressure is on, just like those Olympic athletes with the weight of their countries’ expectations on their shoulders.

The components of critical thinking are 1) arrive at conclusions and make inferences through a logical reasoning process based on facts, 2) gathering information through questions 3) being open to new evidence that dispels previously held ideas and beliefs, 4) understanding the politics of an issue, 5) using analogies, 6) seeing more than one side of an issue, 7) assessing and interpreting information with dispassionate insight and 8) having or obtaining subject matter knowledge.

Practice makes perfect and training ourselves to think about how we think will bring those rewards when we most need them. We may not be going for an Olympic medal but as we are called upon to lead, we will be more successful in business by thinking this way.

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