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Clear Thinking is A Strategic Advantage: A Case for Radical Transparency

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

“Believe those who are seeking the truth, doubt those who find it”

— Andre Gide


radical transparency

As I have written in the “Bodystorming” article about the importance of testing out our strategies, I realize that the philosophy that embodies the whole exercise is far more important than we give it credit for. The philosophy that I am talking about is also the objective of philosophy, and that is the pursuit of ‘truth’.


Clear thinking is a strategic advantage and it requires facing the truth. In business, a healthier form of decision-making and team spirit is built on transparently exploring what is true. Not many have been able to embrace it because if you are like most people (me included), the idea of facing the unvarnished truth makes you uncomfortable, but choosing comfort above achievement has a negative impact on everyone.


Consider the classic case of Prisoner’s Dilemma in Game Theory, if everybody acts for their own self-interest, the outcome would be counterproductive to the whole group. The better choice, obviously, is to arrive at an equilibrium (Nash Equilibrium in Game Theory), and in order to find it, the group members should be objective and honest with each other.

When everyone has the opportunity to hear and challenge what everyone else is thinking, learning is compounded and amplified. This, in turn, will provide feedback on what is critical for your growth and the continuous improvement of the organization's decision-making process.


Scientists and philosophers have long been obsessed with the true nature of the universe. Let us explore how critical thinking started in the first place and understand what these philosophers can teach us about becoming a more clear thinker.


History of Critical Thinking


The intellectual roots of critical thinking can be traced back to 350 BC. The famous Greek philosopher Socrates was the first to embrace critical thinking practices. Socrates was concerned with how people were basing their arguments on false assumptions about how the world works instead of logical reasoning. He also disliked many of those in positions of power because he thought they might merely be skilled performers and manipulators rather than having solid knowledge and understanding.


Socrates approached faulty reasoning with a technique that he developed known as "Socratic Questioning," which focuses on clarity and logical consistency. This technique was later adopted by Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, who all shared the conviction that reality might not always be as it seems and that the critical mind should assess the merits of all logic to determine a reasonable truth.


The critical thinking movement led by the Greek philosophers later shaped the work of other well-known thinkers such as Francis Bacon, Niccolo Machiavelli, Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant. Socratic questioning or dialogue is also used in cognitive behavioral therapy, as it engages the subject to question their own extremist logic causing negative thought patterns.


Elementary, my dear Watson


Reasoning can be divided into two categories: deductive and inductive reasoning. Deduction can be understood as trying to uncover the truth by piecing together the things we already know. Like how Sherlock Holmes tries to make an observation of a crime scene. If we were to get inside Sherlock’s head and look at the possibilities of reasoning that can be made from his deduction, we would need to validate a great many of those possibilities to arrive at the conclusion.


“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Sherlock Holmes


Inductive reasoning involves the prediction of a certain event, based on a certain set of data in the past. Inductive reasoning is often used by analysts and strategists. Even Sherlock arrives at inductive reasoning a great many times, often when he wants to close the case with an elusive criminal, such as Professor Moriarty. Some people think of inductive reasoning as “bottom-up” logic, because it involves widening specific premises out into broader generalizations.


Having said that, inductive reasoning is mostly associated with informal logic. The primary issue with informal logic is - generalization. When your facts are based on random information or empty rhetoric, you cannot develop logical conclusions or have clearer opinions.


It is also the most common form of logic simply because it is the one we employ every day. If you can focus on your own inductive reasoning and look for gaps and faults in your own logic, your critical thinking will improve dramatically. Informal logic is used in everyday encounters because it is practical, which means it helps us make judgments faster, but it may also lead to different logical fallacies.


Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that stem from a plethora of factors. Some examples include Ad hominem (Latin for 'to the person'): This fallacy refers to several types of arguments, most of which are fallacious. Typically, this term refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than addressing the substance of the argument itself.


Feedback fallacy: This fallacy refers to believing in the objectivity of an evaluation to be used as the basis for improvement without verifying that the source of the evaluation is a disinterested party.


Fallacy of the single cause (causal oversimplification): It is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of different causes.

Sunk cost fallacy: The phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.

Appeal to ignorance: Ignorance isn’t proof. Ignorance merely shows that one doesn’t know something. If someone argues that your organization shouldn’t pursue a project because no one has ever been able to achieve its objective previously, that is not a solid argument.

Red Herring: A red herring is when something irrelevant is raised to deflect attention. It’s often used in filmmaking to mislead the audience, and often found in an argument to distract one from making a good decision.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: This fallacy translates to “after this, therefore, because of this.” This logical fallacy refers to making failed causal inferences due to sequence. In other words, one action following another does not mean there is a causal link.

Socratic Discussion and Radical Transparency


“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”

Socrates

radical transparency and critical thinking

As we’ve discussed in the history of critical thinking, it was Socrates who popularized the concept of critically analyzing ideas and uncovering the truth. He might have been a little annoying to several people when he kept on asking question after question, but oftentimes these questions led the person to a totally different understanding of the natural world.

The Socratic method (also known as the method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate) is a form of a cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and drawing out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

As mentioned before, the Socratic discussion is also employed in the practice of Cognitive Behavioral Theory as the therapist (like a Socratic teacher) asks the patient a certain set of questions that are aimed at the very logic of extremist thinking that comes with various psychological conditions. The Socratic method is a method of wrestling with broad generalizations to uncover and understand the basis of the logic behind the reasoning of the individual.

The Socratic method searches for general commonly held truths that shape beliefs and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, explore definitions, and characterize general characteristics shared by various particular instances.

Now it might be difficult to practice Socratic questioning with anyone you meet on the street, but it is extremely important to do so within organizations. As uncomfortable as it may seem, while concealing the truth might make people happier in the short run, it won’t make them smarter or more trusting in the long run. That is why I believe organizations should run with a core principle of Radical Transparency, to encourage Socratic discussions that will help uncover the real truth.

The Case for Radical Transparency

"The best way to prove the clearness of your mind, is by showing its faults; as when a stream discovers the dirt at the bottom, it convinces us of the transparency and purity of the water."

—Alexander Pope, 'Thoughts on Various Subjects,' 1737

The term "integrity" is derived from the Latin word integritas, which means "one" or "whole." People who are one way on the inside and another on the outside, or who are not "whole," lack integrity and instead possess duality. Those who are one way on the inside and another on the outside get conflicted and frequently lose touch with their own principles. It's tough for them to be happy, and it's nearly hard for them to be their best selves.


Radical openness and transparency are essential for quick learning and personal evolution. Learning is the result of a continual real-time feedback loop in which we make decisions, see the consequences, and enhance our knowledge of reality. Being radically open-minded makes what you are doing and why you are doing it so apparent to yourself and others that there can be no misconceptions, which increases the efficiency of these feedback loops.


Some Tips for Radical Transparency


Here are two tips for implementing Radical Transparency within your organization. It comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:


  1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood: Ideally, you should begin a conversation by listening. Trying to understand the concerns that the person objecting to your ideas has, and what the root causes are. After the person has made their point abundantly clear, you can help them by making questions to assess hypotheses and assumptions so they can articulate themselves rationally. After that, you can make your points while keeping in mind that you yourself don’t make assumptions and base your ideas on empty rhetoric. Therefore, you need to be open to feedback as well. The idea is to arrive at an equilibrium.

  2. Think win/win: As we’ve understood from Game Theory, the best possible outcome is to arrive at Nash Equilibrium - the best solution to any problem is unlikely to be ‘win/lose’. Win/lose discussions can harm important working relationships and become the standard method of "doing business," in which case there is always a chance of you losing and them winning, even though they may create outcomes that are favorable in the near term. Having said that, one must also keep in mind that certain ideas are scrutinized and assessed for the merits of their logic before jumping into making decisions. Oftentimes, if the idea does not hold truth - it will not stand scrutiny.


Parting Thoughts


As we try to implement radical transparency into our way of doing business, it will inevitably make us clear thinkers as a result. However, this does not mean that we stop experimenting altogether. Innovators should realise that creating something never seen before coincides with the spheres of what we know and don’t know. You must be prepared to try out unique ways you believe are best and to open-mindedly consider the criticism that invariably results from doing so.


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