Critical Thinking Applied: Crap Detection

December 3, 2010

We're all faced with decisions each and every day. We are being sold, persuaded, or pressed into making a call. In these situations, critical thinking helps to shape your understanding of the arguments being presented, functioning as crap detection.

Crap doesn’t require detection when it is out in the open, all by itself. It’s far less obvious when it is packaged in some way. Naturally, some people are much better at packaging than others.

In its worst form, crap is…

Promoting something of questionable value, whether it be something abstract like a concept (pyramid schemes) or something more concrete, like an institution (Enron). I'm talking about a blatant attempt at deception for the purpose of separating you from your hard-earned money.

Other times, crap is…

Unsound judgment, typically the result of hasty, careless thinking that has led to an incorrect conclusion. This isn’t lying, but rather the lack of due diligence that had led to a mistake (or could lead to a mistake). I know that I’ve made some snap decisions in the past because I was pressed for time, and I don’t fault anyone for the occasional lapse in attentiveness that leads to mistakes. In fact, most people are usually grateful when someone else points out that more time and effort should go into a decision.

Crap can also be…

An attempt to persuade you of something, like purchasing that expensive car to demonstrate that you “are coming up in the world,” or using a specific teeth whitener because a particular celebrity uses it – so it must be good for you, too. Or perhaps it is a pitch to purchase some great tool that will boost the productivity of your staff. In this case, you receive value, but real questions are:
  • Do you really need it?
  • If so, is this the right solution for you, based on the arguments made and the information available?
When it comes to detection, one piece of advice is a different application of the same advice offered in the martial arts: increased awareness. This isn't about keeping yourself physically safe, but staying alert for the true nature of the message that someone is communicating.

What is their agenda? Does this person have any biases towards a particular point of view? What are their sources of information and how credible is the information? Is what they are communicating reasonable, and does the logic of hang together?

By all means, don’t run around doubting what everyone says. Keep an open mind and engage in a healthy dialog, research, and thinking. Explore and consider what is being put forth and make sure that it works for you.

There are times when we managers have been accused of generating crap. (I know of some people who have played buzzword bingo during my presentations.) These days, generating crap is all too easy via the web. And there's even an app for that! Give the Web Economy Bullshit Generator a try...