Think like a Social Scientist

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Think like a Social Scientist

I encourage everyone to think like a social scientist. Not all the time — that would be exhausting and you’d probably be accused of being a “creepy, monomaniacal over-analyzer” — but you should think like a social scientist when it matters. Why?

Because you’ll be more likely to make better decisions.

Thinking like a scientist means caring more about understanding the world as it is than justifying why it must be as you suppose. Too often, we engage in mental gymnastics to make the world appear as we wish it to be. But the world doesn’t care. When we’re wrong, eventually the world will show us.

It means developing your awareness of the world and the people around you, as well as of yourself. It is a path toward mindfulness and it strengthens your skills at real pattern recognition.

Bring out your inner scientist.
Bring out your inner scientist.

It cultivates your critical observer. It’s easy to be critical of others you don’t like or agree with, but we need to learn to be positively critical of ourselves and others. What does that mean? It means becoming aware of the judgments we make and understanding why we make them. It means, when we agree or approve, we understand why. It also means, when we disagree or disapprove, we also understand why — and we offer a positive alternative to the conversation.

Thinking like a social scientist means understanding our social and cognitive biases. We all have blinders and shortcuts due to our experience or our habits of mind. They are inevitable, but we can become more understanding of the ways they lead us astray.

Most of the time people focus on the “what.” The “what” is the foundation of our knowledge. But social scientists press on to look for the “why” and the “how.” “Why” and “how” are powerful questions: their answers allow us to make better plans and put them into action.

It encourages us to focus on reason and evidence. We believe what we believe for a lot of reasons — most of them are quick and easy, some of them are even effective, but important decisions should be grounded on the best available standards.

There are may more reasons why we should all think like a social scientist more often than we do. But this seems like a good list to get us started. We all start out with the curious, scientific inclination as kids. We can revive that sense of wonder and direct it toward our own lives. How would your life and career be better if you cultivated your inner social scientist?

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