Forget the Right Answer!

Critical thinking has become a huge buzzword in the modern world. Every survey of CEOs seems to put it right at the top of valued skills, asking every employee to be proficient in it. Rightly so, as well, in my opinion. However, as highly as this skill is valued, the majority of employees today have never been taught how to think critically!

In school, I was taught to memorize facts, then given exams on how well I can recall the information, and then I was graded on my ability to regurgitate what I memorized. Critical thinking is the exact opposite; it’s defined by asking good questions, not by recalling the “right” answer. We spent our school years trying to recall the “right” answer on demand, and now we’re in the real world where there is often no “right” answer, just better or worse answers.

People base their decisions on antiquated models that used to work quite well, or on assumptions based on their upbringing or cultural realities. These environments often do not exist anymore, and the thinking that people used as they were growing up does not serve them well moving forward.

That’s a big problem in a VUCA world: the decisions a person makes are based on data that no longer applies. By definition, what worked yesterday in a VUCA environment won’t work tomorrow.

To be effective in today’s society, we must begin with thinking critically — with getting better at asking the right questions. Instead of coming up with answers and hanging onto them long after they’re applicable, we need to continually ask: How do we know this answer is still true? What new information do we have that could affect our earlier decision?

By asking better questions, we’ll come to better answers. And asking better questions forms the foundation we’ll need to outsmart VUCA.

To learn more about critical thinking and other related topics, check out my book Outsmarting V.U.C.A.


Dr. Don Gilman is a professional speaker, trainer, and author of “Outsmarting VUCA: Achieving Success in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous World”. With a Doctorate degree in Organization Change, as well as advanced degrees in Engineering Physics, Nuclear Engineering, and Engineering Management, Don is uniquely positioned to understand the challenges organizations face today in capturing new opportunities and staying competitive in this VUCA environment.