A few months ago, my brother introduced me to Skeptoid, a podcast created by Brian Dunning to help promote critical thinking, and I’ve been absolutely addicted to it ever since. Each episode lasts about twelve to fifteen minutes, during which the host debunks a popular myth, superstition or conspiracy theory using plain, old-fashioned scientific reasoning. He tackles everything from UFO sightings to emerging trends in health and confronts each case with an unbiased methodology that calls into question any “assumed” piece of knowledge. Every episode of Skeptoid leaves me feeling incredibly energized and smug. Like I’ve just cracked some secret code.
Skepticism is a wonderful thing that’s often treated like a disease. With today’s Law of Attraction pop-culture mentality, we’ve been taught that blind faith is more effective than healthy, critical thinking. If you’re a skeptic, you’re just a negative party-pooper. You don’t get it. Thus, many of us have gotten in the habit of simply believing. We tune out that little voice that questions. We don’t want to cause trouble. We don’t want to stand out.
Plus, being a skeptic is a lot of work. It’s much easier to simply accept what you’ve been told and agree. When you start raising questions people want you to have the answers as well.
Skepticism and Productivity – What’s the Connection?
So, what does all of this have to do with productivity in the workplace? Simply put, I think many of us stifle our productivity because we fail to use our skeptical eye. We simply go with the flow. We perform tasks the way we were taught to do them, the way they’ve always been done. We don’t ever stop to question if it’s the best way. We fall into patterns and simply believe that our way is the one and only way to do the job.
Productivity is also stifled when people aren’t skeptical about the decisions being made. Many workplaces specifically discourage this kind of skepticism. They would prefer for everyone to simply rally around the decision-maker and blindly follow his or her commands. They want “yes men,” not people who ask questions and try to debunk their assumptions. But think of what they’re missing! Imagine if, instead, skepticism was encouraged. What kind of mistakes could be prevented? How many ineffective strategies vetoed?
I think a healthy dose of skepticism can help boost productivity in nearly any workplace.
How to Hone Your Skeptical Eye
Since so many of us have forgotten how to be skeptical, I decided to outline a few pointers below.
1. Evaluate the Evidence
What proof supports the claim? If you’re looking at a process, ask how well the desired results are being achieved. Be willing to see—and even look for—evidence that contradicts your current beliefs.
2. Look for Alternatives
What are the other options to consider and what potential improvements do they offer?
3. Question What You Know
If your assumptions aren’t true, what would change? Is there new information that didn’t exist when the current process or theory was developed?
4. Consider the Source
Where did the information come from? Who taught you how to do this? How reliable is this person?
Skepticism versus Blind Faith
I believe there is room for both skepticism and blind faith, but there are times when one is more appropriate than the other. Being skeptical will often win you the recognition of being difficult or cynical. Take this as an opportunity to explain that questioning is a way of ensuring the best possible methods are being used and the best decisions are being made. You’re trying to look at the issue from all angles rather than simply accept it based on one narrow viewpoint.
Of course, there’s a time and place for skepticism, and there are times when you simply must fall into step. When I was working as an Executive Assistant, my boss was in his seventies and, needless to say, was rather set in his ways. There were several times when I tried to question the way we were doing things and recommend alternatives that would greatly improve productivity and he simply wouldn’t hear it. My skepticism frustrated him and so, with certain key issues about which he felt strongly, I had to just accept his assertion that his way was the “best” way.
Are you skeptical in the workplace? Are you appropriately questioning your processes and the decisions being made? Do you feel that skepticism is encouraged in your workplace? Please share!
Photo Credit: Sparky_Vision (Flickr)