Bananas and Critical Thinking
When I read that more than one hundred billion bananas are consumed worldwide each year, I thought, not possible; that’s way too many! Then again, in New York City alone, twenty million bananas are distributed every week.
After some pondering, I divided one hundred billion by the approximate world population of 7.6 billion. Aha, only 13.1 bananas per person, per year—and that includes all the ways you can eat them that aren’t straight from the banana tree. So one hundred billion is actually reasonable.
When we accept information as unquestionably valid and accurate—whether it concerns bananas, customer complaints, or software bugs—we risk falling victim to statistics that sound impressive but are misleading. We become subject to scams, even though the very fact that something seems too good to be true should be reason enough to question it.
Questioning reasonableness is a critical thinking skill that can be important in your work. Critical thinking is the ability to apply logic and sound thinking to an idea or situation in order to form a rational conclusion. An excellent critical thinking question to ask about some reported claim is: “Is this claim reasonable? Does it make sense?” We have to learn to question results rather than blithely accepting them as valid.
For example, I came across a story about two analysts who developed forecasts for a business unit that was contemplating decreasing staff size by 10 percent. One analyst correctly multiplied the current staff size by 0.90; for a related report, the other analyst multiplied by 0.10. When the results were merged into a final report, the printed results looked clean and crisp, so neither analyst scanned them for reasonableness. It wasn’t until management questioned the findings that the error came to light.
People who are skilled in critical thinking are willing to accept new findings and evidence, even if it means reassessing previous beliefs. They aim to rely on reason rather than emotion in making decisions. They seek to detect inconsistencies in their own reasoning and the reasoning of others.
Especially important, people skilled in critical thinking are aware of the potentially negative impact of cognitive biases, which can lead us to make bad decisions and errors in judgment. One of the most prevalent cognitive biases is the confirmation bias. This refers to our tendency to seek and accept evidence that supports our existing beliefs while overlooking, dismissing, or ignoring all other evidence.
It’s easy to succumb to the confirmation bias, but people with strong critical thinking skills are at least aware of the possibility and strive to avoid it.