Critical thinking and the joy of counterpoint

Critical thinking requires you to examine both sides of a discussion.  Counterpoint encourages working together.

How do you use these approaches?

This article examines these two view points.  Whilst seemingly opposed they are strangely sympathetic.  They also serve to improve your management skills.

  • Start simple because it is
  • How to get the conversation going
  • Learning critical thinking

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Start simple because it is


Whilst the words seem complicated the ideas are very simple to understand.

The dictionary defines counterpoint as “a thing that forms a pleasing or notable contrast to something else.”

Whilst one tune is playing, another tune is also playing that works in harmony with the first tune.   Think of “Row Row Row your boat”.  The start of this is an example of the melodies building up.  Every melody is important and would work as a tune on its own.

For the technical definitions on piano here are some useful links.

Critical thinking

School and university predominant encourage this skill.  You go to school to learn words and grammer in various topics and as a result you will begin to form opinions.

The dictionary defines critical thinking as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.”

Although critical has a negative feeling such as “someone is critical of me”, critical thinking is the title of an objective viewpoint that tries to see both sides of an argument before electing to choose one side or the other.



Using these concepts in a conversation

Counterpoint in action

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I was part of a discussion among a group of incredibly bright people.  What made the experience so interesting for me was the diversity in thought and life adventures because these people, every one, are success stories in their own lives.

Their skills, education, life experience and personalities shone through and made for a very enjoyable conversation.  They each had challenges and not one had an easy time of it but they met the challenges and managed them.

The counterpoint of the conversation surprised and delighted me.  Primarily for the reason that at some point or another every person was leading the melody of the conversation.

The group predominantly had been friends in college together and kept up their connections.  My wife is one of the college gang.  As a result I was afforded my invite and found myself and the group wined and dined as royalty in a beautiful home.

In business when does counterpoint of ideas flow?  In your last meeting how did you ensure that one person didn’t dominate the entire conversation?

Frequently, stress leads people to behaviours that don’t help the business consequently managing stress allows the music to flow.

How can you manage yours and other’s stress when a discussion is needed?


Critical thinking in action

The group were are communicators who for most of them had studied business and then chosen differing specialties.  Communication is a key part of their skill sets.

As the evening continued the state of the nation arose about how business and politics in Ireland affected our lives today.

Politics affects everyone’s lives as rules which apply to everyone such as tax and laws change the options on how you live your life.  As everyone is effected everyone is afforded an opinion.

People can get very protective of their ideas and politics can lead to heated rows, yet in this discussion on this evening it was counterpoint.

  • Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have been elected to lead the country for decades have at times to many people seemed interchangeable in their positions.
  • “The Irish Times” is the predominant view point of people in Ireland.  Where is the opposing thought? One stated “I read the Daily Mail just for contrast”
  • The millennials and older generations have a sense of entitlement that pensions and benefits are due them.

Whilst I personally am not seeking to debate any of the topics that were raised here on the night they were enjoyable to discuss critically.

Each of these headings could have been explosive or lead to conflict yet none did.

In business, critical thinking is used to find solutions to conflict and how to over come challenges.  A famous quote from an unknown author defined insanity as “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  When was critical thinking last employed to explore a challenge in your business life?


How to get the conversation going

Managing stress

The first part of the challenge for everyone is stress.  Cortisol is the primary hormone in the body which is linked with stress, nature’s built-in alarm system.  Also realising other people in the room are stressed is important.

Cortisol influences heavily mood, motivation and fear.  In a casual setting with nice food and drink, naturally cortisol levels are lower, not gone but lower.  In a business people forget to manage their levels and as a result mood changes.  Cortisol can also lead to fuzzy thinking and making bad decisions.

Daniel Levitin is a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist amongst other things.

Space for everything that is commonly lost can also be described as micro-habits.

My pre-mortem going to this dinner was to ask my wife the names of who is and isn’t there, their relationships and if there were any subjects that were taboo.  To be honest it was also good to chat to my wife and made the car journey even more engaging.  I lowered my own cortisol as I had a feeling I had done some homework.


Worried I’m not good enough

Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or think you cant, you’re right.”

Previously I wrote an article to help people find their personal confidence as other’s can easily take it away if you let them.

It is also possible to see that stress is a good thing to go through as it can help you grow.


Hearing other’s points of view

If you have an opinion and someone else has a different opinion, neither of you are right and wrong.

Giving the other person the opportunity to talk is giving them an opportunity to chat.

You are responsible for heightening or lowering other’s stress levels.

People shout to be heard over a crowd which is stressful.  As the religious leader Gordon B. Hinckley once said “We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention.”


Learning critical thinking

Having a discussion

In order to think critically you have to give up your argument.  This is very difficult for some but the point is you are not in a win / lose scenario.  You are in a learning scenario.

Take a pointless argument.  “Eggs are the best food for breakfast.”  Take the position for and against this idea.

The for argument can use protein, low fat and high energy arguments where the against argument can go with inconvenience, cholesterol and health risk arguments.

The point here is not to win the argument but to be able to realise there are two sides.  If you’re learning, no one needs to win or lose.

How do you know about cholesterol, health risks, etc with some study either through newspapers or chatting to people.  The more information you have on a subject the more you can argue for both sides.

Arguing a point in business leaves you open to someone else knowing more and people shy away from the risk of not knowing or appearing stupid.

In school, college and university it is accepted you don’t know and therefore have the opportunity to pose the question and learn from it.  This is a wonderful environment if you learn to use it.  Question everything.


The right answer

Some questions don’t have a single correct definitive answer.  Philosophy and religious debates highlight the many places it is possible to argue for and against a topic.

If stress is too high critical thinking is often lost in the mix of having to be right.

Not everyone in life will become rich and famous hence accepting it might not happen but still motivating yourself to try is called faith.

Learning and education give you lots of information.

The information given at college and university is critically thought out.  It is fact and not just one side of an argument.

When a lecturer delivers their information they need to be able to argue for and against the position.

A viva voce as part of an academic exam means you must be able to verbally justify the position you took in your paper.  It is often considered one of the most stressful types of exams.  Most people including myself were more stressed trying to get my examiners see my point of view than of what I was being examined for.

You do not have to go to university to understand critical thinking but it can help you understand two sides as it gives you broad unbiased information.


Being successful

Critical thinking says you hear the other sides argument out and then looking at both sides of the argument make a choice for yourself.  It is not about winning an argument.

Critical thinking does not help you be successful for the reason that it can instead sow doubt and reduce motivation.

Business leaders often need one sided thinking.  This will work.  I will provide it.  I don’t need to debate if this will work above all I just have to believe in myself.

College and university correctly used not only provide a broad introduction to an area but facilitate you applying critical thinking.  You can and literally should question everything.


Elon Musk and other’s opinions

I admire people who choose to risk it all to follow their beliefs.  It’s all to easy to sit back and say I wouldn’t have done it that way or I wouldn’t have risked that.

As Samuel Beckett wrote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

I am a fan of Elon Musk as a result of his self belief not the critical thinking that has led to new inventions.

The problem was the cost of launching rockets.  The solution was “make it cheaper”.  Will creating a reusable rocket work as a business?

When this question first arose, there was no for and against argument as it had never been done before.  Furthermore knowing the challenges before getting into the area can sow doubt but where a true “we don’t know” question exists, we can refer again to Henry Ford saying “Whether you think you can or think you cant, you’re right.”

I disagree with his position that university is a waste of time.  Elon has a BSc in Physics and a BA in Economics consequently maybe the education in physics led to his interest in Space X.

Most of the great business people had their ideas whilst in university rather than waste time, they developed their beliefs.

Yoga done improperly doesn’t yield the highest results it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it.

How did you and do you use your time in university?  When do you practice your critical thinking?

Try watching the following video and see if you can critically think you way through it.




If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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