Undoubtedly, the ability to think independently is frequently regarded as a crucial personal trait for success in both life and the workplace. Particularly in Western nations, it is a component of the cultural respect for individuality and, in the particular field of leadership and management, is a crucial quality in the widely held notion that a leader must be a “heroic,” independent person.
This self-awareness is necessary because it will serve as an overall “anchor” (reference frame) to direct their daily decisions and assessments. It’s inevitable that values, character traits, and goals will change over time, but that’s okay. But without them, a person’s thinking lacks direction and compass, and they become like a “straw in the wind,” simply responding to sporadic events or accepting the views of others.
Thirdly, a tendency to form opinions and make decisions based on careful and deliberate thought (to the extent that is practical) as opposed to simply acting quickly on instinct or readily accepting other people’s viewpoints Fourthly, the willingness to constantly “re-think” and revise or alter one’s opinions in light of new experiences, better information, or opposing viewpoints from others.
For many years, it has been discovered that thinking abilities are among the most important “soft” skills that people need in order to succeed in the workplace of the future. For instance, analysis thinking, active learning, complex problem-solving, critical thinking/analysis, and creativity were found to be the top five skills that employers believe will become more crucial in the upcoming years according to research for the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report,” published in October 2020. Four of these five skills concern thinking skills. Unfortunately, despite their importance, it seems that people are not being adequately trained in these fields by schools and colleges.
Since independent thought affects many of these (and other) areas of thought, it follows that independent thought is also typically in poor condition. However, independent thinking is actually a more general concept that calls for a variety of behaviors, routines, and processes rather than just particular cognitive abilities. And there are, in my opinion, some serious misunderstandings about the subject. So, exactly, what does independent thinking involve ?.
First and foremost, despite how much we may like the concept of independence, none of us are truly independent thinkers in the truest sense. We all live and have developed in social and communal contexts (from families to local communities to entire nations) where shared sets of common knowledge, beliefs, and values have accumulated and been shared with so many others. These convictions range, for instance, from fundamental social norms that murder and theft are wrong to local or particular convictions in a particular business that customers should be treated in a certain way.
The point is that nobody truly “lives on an island” because we are all somewhat influenced by those around us. Of course, in organizations, the avoidance of overly independent behavior by employees is positively necessary: if everyone was thoroughly independent-minded, there would be no cohesion or consistency, and anarchy could result, including in the boardroom itself. Furthermore, as humans, we have a physiological need to “fit in” with and to be seen to “get along” with others: none of us wants to be too independent.
A related fact is that everyone, of course, does occasionally need to involve other people in order to achieve an overall better result, decision, or output because nobody has perfect knowledge, skill, or certainty in everything. In order to compensate for our own deficiencies in knowledge or ability, we need the unique or superior “collective intelligence” of others.
The second, crucial distinction I would like to make is that, while “critical thinking” is an important component of independent thinking, it is not the only type of cognitive ability that is important. The goal of critical thinking is to unbiasedly examine and evaluate the veracity, dependability, applicability, and validity of concepts, facts, arguments, and conclusions. Its approach is about applying a rational, factual, scientific mind-set. In contrast, independent thinking requires a broader skill set and wider mindset, as well as the willingness to examine situations and problems using a variety of thinking strategies as well as different routines and practices (see below).
However, I would contend that good independent thinkers should not be afraid to admit some (conscious) emotion when analyzing a problem or circumstance. One’s overall self-awareness and understanding of where or how particular components of an opinion may be less steadfast or fixed increases when they are conscious of the emotions (feelings) underlying a belief or opinion. And undoubtedly, making an effort to think about how and why other people feel about a situation will help to produce a more illuminating and insightful evaluation of their position.
Additionally, rational people shouldn’t be afraid to investigate what their intuition is telling them because their subconscious minds are a legitimate source of experience, knowledge, and wisdom (as well as feelings) about a wide range of life’s problems. A good independent thinker will always make a conscious effort to note and consider the influence of the subconscious and feelings because, of course, humans are emotional and intuitive creatures, and almost all thoughts do involve some call upon these (rather than just rational, conscious beliefs).
Independent thinking differs from being cynical, who has a general lack of faith in other people and their opinions (often perceiving them as motivated by self-interest). Additionally, a skeptic, who is more trusting of others but does not allow themselves to be easily persuaded to accept others’ viewpoints, is not quite the same as an independent thinker. Instead, independent thinkers do not automatically or generally harbor mistrust or negativity toward others, even though they form and firmly believe in their own opinions.
Independent thinkers are prepared to evaluate any new information or viewpoints they encounter and, if necessary, change their previously held opinions. Open-mindedness and intellectual humility, which are the willingness to seek out and engage with various points of view and the capacity to allow those experiences to change one’s beliefs, are a combination of two essential qualities that these people uphold. Being a good, independent thinker entails having an insatiable curiosity about the world around you, being willing to benefit from other people’s knowledge, but also having the guts to challenge other people’s points of view in order to change your own perspective. Independent thinkers maintain a healthy balance between intellectual self-assurance and overconfidence, which helps them keep their egos separate from their minds.
Other noteworthy personal characteristics that contribute to being a good independent thinker include the capacity to synthesise, patience, the capacity to tolerate ambiguity, empathy for others, as well as personal ambition and persistence. And some beneficial routines or interests that have been discovered to be helpful (especially in terms of aiding in “broadening the mind”) include: a strong regard for personal learning and self-development; traveling widely across different countries; trying out a variety of leisure pursuits; maintaining contact with a large circle of contacts and friends; reading widely; and keeping up generally with current affairs and what’s happening in the world around you.
Good independent thinkers always strive to take a very cautious, thought-out approach in their overall thinking, including components of “critical thinking.” The following are some examples of tactics: clearly defining the core issue or problem; possibly breaking the problem down into more specific issues/elements; locating information relevant to the issue; analyzing and double-checking data; challenging and examining existing assumptions and accepted beliefs; challenging and testing arguments through logic (looking out for any reasoning errors – sometimes referred to as “fallacies”); and developing conclusions and proposals based on data. Of course, the extent to which these components are used will depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the issue at hand, the amount of time available, and the accessibility of the data.
However, independent thinking necessitates the use of more than just critical thinking. A good independent thinker will attempt to adopt a “dragonfly-eye” of the world, which entails being able and willing to view a situation through multiple lenses (angles), as there is never just one way to look at an issue or situation. This multi-faceted viewpoint typically necessitates using a variety of thinking techniques and strategies (such as holistic thinking, creative thinking, abstract thinking, and strategic thinking), as well as seeking the opinions and broader expertise of other people involved with the problem or circumstance (such as customers, employees, and suppliers). The best way to get a dragonfly’s eye view is frequently to “anchor outside” as opposed to inside the issue. e. consider the broader ‘eco-system’ view as a starting point. The advantage is being able to see beyond the typical or familiar patterns that our brains lead us to perceive in order to arrive at a richer, more insightful analysis of the situation or a better solution to the issue.
Making an effort to deliberately consider and take action to try and mitigate against various personal cognitive biases and forms of “motivated reasoning,” which can easily influence and “distort” how a person views a situation or issue, is, of course, another critical ability of a good independent thinker. Confirmation bias, risk/loss aversion, overconfidence, authority bias, and the sunk-cost fallacy are a few examples of common biases. Common examples of motivated reasoning (i. e. An intense desire to fulfill a particular goal or desire and a concern to be accepted by the group are examples of (making decisions based on personal feelings rather than what factual evidence indicates). A good leader will be aware of these potential cognitive distortions in both themselves and those that are apparent or potentially present in others.
Of course, directors and managers in particular must possess the traits and behaviors of independent thought because it is their decisions and judgments that determine the success or failure of their organizations. In fact, Section 173 of the 2006 Companies Act stipulates that directors of large and small, publicly traded and unlisted, for-profit and non-profit organizations must always use “independent judgment” in their work.
The problem, of course, is that the political dynamics and group context of the board as a whole invariably influence the individual thinking of directors, whether for better or worse. Therefore, in light of this, it is wise for boards (and senior teams) to adopt certain specific governance practices that can help foster individual thought and reduce issues that can be brought on by groups, such as g. groupthink. The UK’s Chartered Governance Institute published “The 12 elements of independent judgement for a UK board” in July 2021 as a useful set of recommendations for such procedures. It’s worth summarising what those elements are:
Directors should pay close attention to any written or spoken materials they receive, check the information presented, including measures and assumptions used, and where necessary, question it. They should also avoid placing an undue reliance on any one person’s judgment or the consensus view. Finally, they should ensure that proposals received sufficiently take into account all relevant factors. e. influencing factors.
The following four factors have to do with attitudes and feelings when making decisions: directors should “constructive challenge” managers to get a fuller, more informed perspective; they should avoid being unduly swayed by sectional interests or agendas; they should be conscious of their own biases, goals, and emotions; and they should consider risk and uncertainty issues and take steps to reduce them.
The last set of criteria relates to how directors make decisions. They must create an atmosphere where different viewpoints are valued and dissent is accepted, look at how options have been presented and identify any that may have been left out, understand the trade-offs involved in the decision (such as timing, consequences, and feasibility issues), and be prepared to consult with relevant stakeholders.
I believe that these twelve components make up a very valuable set of best practices, but it is important to note that they also call for the board as a whole to follow proper process and procedure in addition to individual director behavior. Consequently, the board chair obviously plays a crucial role in ensuring that directors think strategically and effectively. Wider factors also play a role, including organizational culture and, in particular, whether or how much directors are paid to hold their positions (I sometimes wonder how much the thousands of pounds in typical compensation for UK listed company directors compromises their ability to think independently!) Therefore, inviting an outside/independent facilitator to work with a board for specific meetings or projects can sometimes be very helpful in encouraging and reinforcing objective or fresh thinking by boards.
Without a doubt, the capacity for independent thought and judgment is an important human ability. For example, those who may have more charisma, passion, or drive but lack judgment are likely to have devoted followers but are also more likely to run the risk of leading them astray or become stuck when they encounter issues that call for original thinking!
But being a good independent thinker is not easy. As mentioned above, it involves a variety of skills and practices, many of which are cognitive, but also many that are more behavioral or attitudinal in nature. The ability to think critically while also being open to engaging with others and potentially changing one’s viewpoints in response to their arguments is what distinguishes good independent thinking from simply thinking for oneself and firmly holding one’s opinions. It’s the ability to detach but without being totally detached!.
3 Tips for Becoming an Independent Thinker
What is an independent thinker?
An independent thinker is someone who is knowledgeable and self-assured enough to share their opinions with coworkers and superiors. Many independent thinkers are driven and disciplined enough to produce creative solutions and high-caliber work that increases an organization’s success. Because you have an independent mind, coworkers may come to you with inquiries or problems that require original solutions. Before coming up with an original plan of action or resolution to a typical work-related issue, this way of thinking enables you to take into account various perspectives, opinions, and outcomes.
9 ways to become an independent thinker
Here are different ways you can become an independent thinker:
1. Review different industry materials
By reading, listening to, or watching various forms of industry-related materials like articles, podcasts, and videos, you can expose yourself to a wide variety of different viewpoints. Understanding the opinions and justifications of subject-matter specialists aids you in expanding your knowledge and developing your own opinions. Consider getting a variety of industry-related publications and scheduling time to review them. You can use these resources to stay informed about various current trends to apply to your ideas, projects, and tasks.
2. Understand various perspectives
Utilizing a variety of viewpoints to solve everyday problems is a successful strategy. Typically, you can acquire these by conversing with people who may have diverse professional perspectives or experiences from your own. Read opinion pieces to understand other viewpoints and to help you develop your own opinions on various topics.
You can use these resources to help you better understand potential outcomes that might happen if you make certain decisions when you’re asked to resolve problems in the workplace. Utilize this information to present original ideas for products, services, or solutions that will be useful to a wide range of people.
3. Network with industry professionals
Attending relevant events, such as conventions, conferences, or training sessions, will allow you to network with other industry professionals. Request their contact information and arrange a meeting outside of business hours to discuss current events or difficulties in the sector. Try to be receptive to their perspectives and methods when it comes to certain issues. If you establish a close relationship with this individual, you can use them as a resource when you need guidance on overcoming particular workplace challenges.
4. Visit new places
Traveling to new places helps you come up with original ideas and insights. This allows you to discover how different cultures function. If you want to improve your skills, think about asking your employer if they can pay for you to attend training seminars. Additionally, the company may have locations where you can visit its branches.
You can do this to travel to new places and discover how other people behave. This can be used to more fully comprehend the behaviors, preferences, and requirements of target markets in order to tailor the company’s message, products, or services to them.
5. Develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills
If you possess advanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills, it may be simpler for you to approach and overcome typical work-related difficulties. With these skills, you can evaluate the efficacy of particular solutions to determine how they might affect other people. Think about taking on more challenging tasks as a volunteer so you can use these experiences to get better at these skills.
Utilizing the knowledge and ethical principles you’ve developed, critical thinking skills can assist you in evaluating various aspects of the issue. You can use this information to have more in-depth conversations with team members and managers so they can better understand various points of view in various situations.
6. Ask questions regularly
If you have a better understanding of the justifications for particular decisions, it might be simpler to think independently. Try to increase your knowledge by routinely asking questions at work. If you’re not sure why your boss put you in charge of a task or why they’re changing a strategy, kindly ask them. This gives you a thorough understanding of the factors that influence the decisions made by leadership experts, which you can take into account when making future high-level decisions.
7. Try new activities
By engaging in novel activities, you can discover new talents, skills, and knowledge. This may open your eyes to abilities or interests you never knew you had. Then, as an independent thinker, you can apply these skills to resolve broad problems or make complex decisions. Think about enrolling in classes to gain new abilities or certifications that will improve your qualifications for your position. This gives you a broad skill set and raises your level of thinking.
8. Challenge yourself
To challenge yourself in both your personal and professional lives, find new avenues. Setting difficult objectives and developing strategies to achieve them will help you achieve this. Ask for more responsibilities, take up a challenging hobby, or go above and beyond your usual quota as ways to achieve this. This encourages you to complete challenging tasks and pushes you to find solutions to challenging problems, both of which help you advance your skills.
9. Request feedback
Asking for feedback on your present performance and the strategies you employ to address current problems is an efficient way to advance and develop as an independent thinker. You can ask your boss for one-on-one meetings to learn more about how to advance your career. Talk about recent choices you made and the results they produced. Inquire about your manager’s thoughts on how you handled these circumstances and whether they have any suggestions for how they might have handled the issue differently. Think carefully about this advice and use it to inform your future workplace decisions.
What is an example of independent thinking?
- Read. Reading other people’s words exposes you to their thoughts.
- Identify the other argument. Play devil’s advocate, and challenge your views.
- Interact with people who are different than you. …
- Travel. …
- Focus on respect.
What does it mean to be an independent critical thinker?
- Confidence. Independent thinkers need to have the confidence to consider alternatives that contradict widely held beliefs because confidence dispels fear.
- Problem-solving. Independent thinkers embrace problems as opportunities for improvement. …
- Focus. …
- Flexibility. …
What is independent thinking leadership?
For instance, a history student who lacks agency might think that everything they read is unchangeable. Due to their conviction that they have the ability to form their own opinions, students in the same class who exhibit high agency may seek out flaws in the arguments and supporting documentation.