Why do we need to 'think smart'?

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Basically, unless we are smart thinkers, we cannot understand the world as well as we should; we cannot solve problems effectively and consistently; we cannot be successful in the areas of our life that concern information. Knowledge is the 'stuff of everyday life in the early twenty-first century. We are always being asked to find it out, develop it, communicate it, and think about it. Smart thinking improves the ways in which we can work with knowledge and information.

First of all, smart thinking helps you to study. All academic work requires the use of reasoning. You want to understand the content, digest information, pick out the key issues to learn, grasp the underlying concepts, and come to terms with unfamiliar ideas: reasoning is the way to go. Most teachers look for reasoned explanations and arguments when marking assignments. More importantly, by using smart-thinking skills to understand context—the situations in which we learn and communicate knowledge—you can understand the system you are in, the expectations and requirements on you as students, and then fulfil those requirements. 

Second, smart thinking helps you at work. Work is, by and large, about decision making. It involves initiating change, coping with new and unfamiliar situations, finding better ways of doing things, finding out crucial information, understanding the people and institutions you work with, and solving complex problems. You use reasoning to accomplish these tasks, and if you have smartened up your thinking, then you will have more confidence in your abilities and succeed more often. In particular, the insights gained through smart thinking will assist in promoting more effective communication. Such communication is essential to successful business and professional life. 

Third, and perhaps most importantly, smart thinking makes you an active member of communities. We are all members of various local and national groups and communities. While our membership of these communities gives us certain rights (for example, the rights of citizenship), it also entails certain responsibilities. It is our responsibility to understand what is happening in society and to act where necessary to conserve or change, to get involved, to make things better, and to fight injustice. We can only pick our way through the complex tangle of opinions, assertions, ideas, and assumptions that make up the dominant social world in which we live /fwe use the skills of smart thinking. Otherwise we are just going to be swept along without any control over events, a situation that is unhelpful for us as individuals but worse for the overall community, to which we owe the responsibilities that come with our rights. 

Moreover, as the neo-punk band Bad Religion sing, there is an inner logic to the events that surround and involve us and, very often, we are taught to stay far from it. We often think that the best way to live our lives is to stay out of the way. As the song 'Inner Logic' continues: 'don't ask questions, don't promote demonstration/don't look for new consensus/don't stray from constitution'. There are two equally undesirable extremes in this refusal to think things through. At one extreme, staying away from the 'logic' means putting too much faith in so-called 'scientific', 'objective' knowledge (which appears as if it can never be questioned). At the other extreme, we shy away from complexity by putting too much reliance on individual relativism, in which each person's opinion is thought to be as good as anyone else's. We should never assume that there can be only one right view; we should not, in turn, presume that all views are right. 

We do need to make the 'effort to reveal' the logic, to 'pierce the complexity', not only for ourselves but for the common good. Smart thinking is how to do it. Generally, knowledge is tied up in contexts of power and influence, and is hardly ever 'objective' or 'neutral'. Smart thinking can help empower us in the face of knowledge, revealing its political and social purposes, its biases and consequences, its exclusions and errors. Thinking smart is about recognising the contexts of power and influence in which knowledge exists. Thinking smart is about using knowledge within and against the constraints of these contexts. It also always involves remembering that our own reasoning may equally involve the exercise of power and of influence