When you encounter a question or theory, do you accept it at face value or break it down using logic? Being able to think analytically is one of the most important skills any adult can possess, and like many other skills, it’s surprisingly easy to learn.
In this guide, we’ll share five tips that you can use to become an analytical thinker and better understand important concepts, debates and issues. From fact-checking to thought experiments, read on to learn five tactics for thinking more analytically.
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Use thought experiments to examine concepts
Thought experiments are great logical tools for examining a situation or argument in full. While some thought experiments encourage you to reach a conclusion, some are designed to keep you guessing and are impossible to ‘solve’ in their entirety.
Thought experiments range from philosophical – like the famous Schrödinger’s Cat paradox – to practical. An example of a thought experiment is hypothesizing on the way you would react in a certain situation with limited options and outcomes.
Many thought experiments overlap with the field of game theory – the study of how behaviors affect outcomes. This list of thought experiments will help you change the way you think to better consider alternative outcomes and human behavior.
Avoid depending on inverse reasoning
Inverse reasoning is using the opposite of a true statement to answer a question or hypothetical situation. For example, an original statement might be: “If you add salt to the meal, the taste of the meal will change.”
This statement is completely logical and accurate. After all, if you add salt to a meal, its taste does change. However, the inverse statement – “If you do not add salt to the meal, its taste will not change.” – isn’t logical or accurate.
This is because there are many ways to modify the taste of a meal. Adding sugar, for example, would modify its taste. Inverse reasoning can be an effective logical tool in certain situations, but it’s a dangerous logical fallacy when relied on.
Inverse statements are just one type of logical fallacy. Others include arguing that a certain outcome is true because it can’t be disproven and assuming a conclusion to an argument before you’ve finished explaining it.
In order to become a more analytical thinker, you need to be aware of the common logical fallacies and understand how to spot them in faulty reasoning. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving exercises will help you learn more about thinking logically and avoiding fallacious reasoning.
Check facts using a variety of sources
Facts, figures and statistics can be manipulated and modified to show just about any opinion or trend. From selection biases to deliberate manipulation, the myriad ways in which facts can be twisted makes it essential that you can them for accuracy.
One of the most important aspects of analytical thinking is being able to break down the way in which facts and figures are collected. From opinion polls to graphs based on public data, many numbers aren’t as accurate as they originally appear to be.
For example, a poll about a controversial political issue can easily be slanted in one direction or another by choosing a biased audience. A poll on the question “Should bicycle lanes be built on all streets?” will get a different answer from an audience of bicyclists, for example, than it would from an audience of drivers.
When you encounter an argument that relies strongly on facts and figures, look into the source of these statistics and how they were collected. You may find a revealing factor in the data collection or questions used to interview respondents that shows bias or manipulation.
Not all statistics are manipulated intentionally. Small cognitive biases can alter the way people respond to questions and theoretical situations. Learn more about how biases affect decision making in our Learn to Master Decision Making course.
Debate ideas to improve your understanding
Think your ideas are bulletproof? Test the strength of your argument by debating against someone with the opposite viewpoint. Exposing yourself to opinions and arguments that oppose yours is the best way to spot flaws in your logic.
When you study a topic in depth and acquire a certain viewpoint, it’s easy to ignore evidence that runs contrary to your opinion. Even with deliberate study, it’s hard to understanding both sides of an argument as well as you understand your own.
Expose yourself to new information, interesting statistics and persuasive evidence against your argument by engaging in regular debate with people who hold views that are different from your own. It might not be easy, but it’s a great way to make your ability to think logically and spot analytical errors far more effective.
Would you like to learn how to debate effectively? Learn how to speak persuasively and present your argument in a format that your audience can easily relate to and understand with The Power of Persuasion.
Base your conclusions on Occam’s Razor
Occam’s Razor is a simple principle that will change the way you think about a huge variety of questions. It states that if several hypotheses compete, the hypothesis that has the fewest assumptions is usually the best choice.
Note that Occam’s Razor doesn’t say that the hypothesis with the least assumptions is correct – just that it’s the best selection. A more complicated solution could be the right one, but in the absence of facts proving certainty, it isn’t the best selection.
Think of Occam’s Razor as a strategic tool – a heuristic that you can use to influence your decision making. For more strategic thinking ideas to improve your analytical thinking skills , enroll in our Strategy Unplugged course.
Learn how to become an analytical thinker
Analytical thinking is useful in almost every aspect of life, from debate and problem solving to investment and entrepreneurship. Learn more about developing the right mindset for analytical thinking in our blog post on logical thinking strategies.