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Critical Thinking is a Critical Success Factor

Critical thinking is a process for making judgments and decisions. It applies analysis and evaluation to decide if information makes sense.



Imagine a scenario in which a convincing speaker argues for prioritizing projects in a certain way. She is in a position to make a unilateral decision or to influence enough people to agree with her opinion. She cuts off anyone who brings up facts or alternative opinions to question her statements and decisions. Her priorities become the basis for capital planning for the next several years.

Were those priorities best for the organization? Without critical thinking, we’d never know.

How often are design, strategy, or other decisions made based on biases, beliefs, and unsupported opinions?



Critical thinking is a foundation for sound decisions, whether in the realms of project management, organizational dynamics, or politics. Without critical thinking, there is the danger of allowing despots and self-proclaimed experts to drive poor decisions.

Strangely, critical thinking is controversial. There are people, some of whom are in powerful positions to influence decisions, who oppose applying analysis to evaluate opinions, biases, and beliefs.

Is the opposition because critical thinking takes time and effort, or is it that ego gets in the way? People want what they want and do not want logic and facts to get in their way. Objectivity and fact-based reality are annoying to those who want their way, even if their way is of questionable value.



Critical thinking requires:

  • Active listening
  • Open-mindedness
  • Growth mindset
  • Self-discipline, and
  • Self-awareness.


Active Listening

Active listening means listening to understand, by paying attention, allowing others to have their say without interruptions, questioning, staying focused, considering non-verbal clues like the tone of voice and body language, turning off thoughts like “I know what he’s going to say”, and withholding judgment.



Open-mindedness includes curiosity, the ability to accept multiple perspectives, and the possibility that you may be wrong. It is a quality that enables active listening.

Being open-minded is having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. It implies being curious and courageous enough to surrender to vulnerability and uncertainty.

Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead writes that over time “we turn to self-protecting – choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning.

When we avoid the uncertainty of not being perfect, in control, and believing that our way is the right and only way, we face the reality of unnecessary emotional conflict leading to bad decisions and unhealthy relationships.

Open-minded curiosity enables root-cause analysis. It avoids jumping to conclusions based on a need to eliminate a problem’s symptoms or to find someone or something to blame.


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Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Your mindset is the sum of your attitudes, moods, perceptions, beliefs, and mental models. It determines your behavior and emotional responses.

A Growth Mindset thinks that failures and challenges are growth opportunities. Feedback is taken as constructive even when it is negative. A Growth Mindset is open to learning.

People with a Fixed Mindset do not like to be challenged. They define themselves in terms of success or failure and will often either give up or fight when faced with challenges. They tend to think that ignorance is a permanent quality rather than something that can be corrected by learning. They tend to be closed-minded.

A Growth Mindset is a foundation for critical thinking.



There is often a desire to “get to the point” as quickly as possible. We want to make the decision and get on with the action. We want to be right.

Critical thinking means not jumping to conclusions.

It takes time and effort to listen, analyze, and reflect on the short- and long-term implications of decisions. It takes self-discipline to slow down and avoid impulsively plunging ahead to make snap decisions without considering facts and alternative opinions.

We must take the time to use classical project management skills – estimating, risk management, communication, control techniques, procurement management, quality management, and working with people – to acquire the information needed to make informed decisions based on facts while considering emotions.

And when facts are not available, we must make sure that we are deciding with that in mind – understanding the risks involved. We must be clear and make it clear to others that estimates are estimates and not definitive predictions. Expectations are not always fulfilled.

Assess risks. Assumptions are fine if they are correctly identified as assumptions and there are alternative assumptions with an understanding of the probability of their being correct. We also need alternate pathways in case we run into problems.



“Self-awareness is knowing who or what we are, our goals and intentions, strengths, and weaknesses, and the way the mind works, our inner workings. It is realizing that the blend of these affects our behavior. Self-awareness is the foundation for emotional and social intelligence. It enables self-management, the ability to choose how to respond rather than to react.”[1]

Self-awareness tells us that we are jumping to conclusions. It enables self-discipline and the management of our emotions and habits. With self-awareness, we can tell when we are being humble enough to accept the need to validate our certainty about being right. We can sense when we are arrogantly insisting that we are right simply because we believe it.

Self-aware we can be ready for anything because we have confidence in our resilience and adaptability.

It means questioning mindsets and motivations.

When you are self-aware you can sense when you are succumbing to the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone to confront uncertainty and the possibility of being wrong. And you perceive your effect on others.


Critical Thinking – A Critical Success Factor

Critical Thinking is using analysis and evaluation to make effective decisions. It overcomes bias and belief to make highly effective decisions and helps to minimize unnecessary conflict.

To be a critical thinker and to have an organization that values critical thinking, it is necessary to overcome resistance to investing the required time and effort and to cultivate

  • Active listening
  • Open-mindedness
  • Growth mindset
  • Self-discipline, and
  • Self-awareness.

Decisions and the actions they drive will be more likely to be the “right” ones the more people apply objectivity and rational thinking, whether in business, at home, or in governance.


[1] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, Self-aware Living, 2023, p. 224.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.