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Facts don't cut it in business

You've got to have the ability to think critically and creatively on your feet


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A recent column in The Wall Street Journal points out that most colleges fail to improve critical-thinking skills. That’s unfortunate. Being able to recite information isn’t really valuable — especially since we can ask Alexa or Siri anything at any time.

Sorry Thomas and Homer; it’s more than just being informed and caring. Connecting dots, making assumptions, analyzing data and imagining different outcomes are all necessary skills for successful executives. It’s good to remember your wedding anniversary, but if you’re a CEO, the formula for the weighted average cost of capital is something you can either ask your chief financial officer for or find on the web.

Some businesses require more creativity than others, though I believe all benefit from it. If you grew up in a retail environment that management tightly controlled — with planograms, menus, meeting cadence, reporting and behaviors all dictated by someone on mahogany row — you may have spent your days in response mode. With enough elbow grease, you maybe did OK — as long as the one big brain at corporate gave you the right instructions.

At some point, however, you needed to be able to innovate, read people more effectively, see patterns and frame issues succinctly.

Some colleges are better at preparing students for the real world by helping them learn critical-thinking skills, and some businesses are too.

Control freaks don’t allow anyone else to think hard because they, of course, have all the answers. They also end up with the weakest teams. A CEO’s leadership style can have a massive impact on how their teams are thinking and acting.

Executives who are collaborative, vulnerable and have a bag full of soft skills to go with their intellect foster the best learning environments for their people — and end up with the strongest teams.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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