Intellectual discipline. Purposeful, self-regulatory judgment. Commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs.
So sayeth Wikipedia on the subject of critical thinking.
What the entry doesn’t mention, and I suppose what hard-core proponents would balk at, are those times when you should jump the fence and do something that appears to be completely irrational.
Then abandon all reason
You’ve been there. All the evidence, pointed questions and logic in the concrete, empirical world can’t get you where you need to go. You have to trust your gut, follow your nose, and take a leap of faith.
Cliches are optional.
Critical thinking and intuition are two sides of the same coin. Scientists—I’d argue the best ones—are willing to play a hunch. So are journalists and detectives.
You know what happens when you get that funny feeling in spite of no clear evidence—that the prospective customer (or employer or colleague) just isn’t someone you want around you. “Use your head,” you think, “You’re being unreasonable.”
Reason wins… and you regret it later.
Maybe there were little clues you missed. Maybe it’s the clarity of hindsight. It doesn’t much matter, because if you’d paid attention to that funny feeling, you wouldn’t have needed to look for clues in the first place.
“Reason” is complicated
The problem with all your reasonable thinking is it probably wasn’t.
That chatter in your head likely told you lies. That any customer is a good customer (and another one might not come along for a long time if you say no to this one). That the job will be okay (because money is tight and you’re terrified).
That kind of reasonable is a limiting, brittle thing. It’s a dressed-up version of settling. A shell-shocked sheep in wolf’s clothing. A voice of false authority.
Reason keeps its eyes open. You make a choice, fully aware you might regret it later. Or you make a different choice, knowing that might not be perfect, either.
Live and learn. Being thoughtful means you learn well.
The practice of intuition
It could be said the desire to create isn’t rational. We all have it in some way, even though it’s not essential to finding food or shelter.
That’s never stopped us from creating.
Knowing when a screenplay or painting is done isn’t a precise measure (not even a screenplay in formula-driven Hollywood). It’s knowing, or simply making the decision to stop and call it done.
Like critical thinking, sharpening your intuition is a skill. You learn it one experience at a time. Critical thinking feeds it.
Critical thinking and intuition are counterpoints and collaborators; essential to both art-making and professional pursuits.
Make room for the irrational. It’s one of the smartest things you’ll ever do.