The irony of common sense is that it is anything but.

In my experience, “common sense” is really rather uncommon.  

One reason for this may be that we have become accustomed to relying on what other people “feed” us in terms of information.

Our access to knowledge is virtually unlimited now that so many of us have instant access to the Internet.

However, our ability to question and productively use the knowledge and information we now have may be diminishing.

It seems that increasing numbers of people are willing to accept information that is provided without questioning its relevance, validity or value to them.

What do you do with knowledge?

The saying “knowledge is power” may have been true before the Internet age, but it is not true today.

“Knowledge that enables us to make informed decisions” is power.

What is more important than getting knowledge is how you apply it — in other words, how you interpret its meaning and relevance in any given set of circumstances, and how you choose to behave as a consequence.

Conscious critical thinking is possibly one of the most important and useful abilities to develop, especially in a world where we are increasingly being required to make decisions quickly and under pressure.

Yet, significant numbers of us focus on acquiring knowledge rather than on applying that knowledge in appropriate and meaningful ways.

Acquiring knowledge is a good thing. But you need to know or understand something before you can have any hope of taking the next step of deciding how you might use it, if you choose to use it at all.

What seems to be lacking is a widespread ability, and willingness, to delve into knowledge and information and look beyond the obvious for more subtle learning and meaning.

Think critically

Critical thinking is important for both personal and business success.

The ability to accept and review information impartially and objectively and hold it up for deeper examination enables us to consider multiple options and outcomes which in turn, can help us “hedge our bets” and minimise risk to some extent.

It is worth remembering that although some people may think similarly to you, others won’t.

Clearly, your upbringing, education, life experiences, prejudices and biases will affect to a greater or lesser extent how you process information, and the outcomes you reach as a result.

However, the very process of delving deeper and being willing to question what is presented will inevitably help exercise your critical thinking muscles and make the process easier each time you do it.

When your family members, colleagues and even those with whom you have a less direct connection challenge you, it gives you an opportunity to think critically.

If you are able to avoid taking the challenge personally, and instead use it as an opportunity to examine your own thoughts, feelings and opinions that come up as a result, you get the opportunity to expand your thinking.

Of course, you may or may not choose to share your thoughts directly with them.

What is important is not the challenge or debate itself, but the process you go through to form your own opinions as a result.

Workplaces — and leaders — that encourage critical thinking know thinking, debate and discussion can take up valuable time.

However, they also know this is an investment rather than a cost, and the benefits that can accrue as a result can fast-track their success exponentially.

Just think

Google is famous for encouraging its staff to “just think” at least 20 per cent of the time.

That is what they are paid to do.

Think critically and creatively.

Some might need quiet time and space; others might need activity and other stimulation.

Either way, employees are encouraged to question, think, debate, talk things through and try things out so that they can look beyond the obvious.

Critical thinking is a critical success factor in almost every successful business. If you have never thought about encouraging it at your workplace, think about it now.