Use This Simple Math Problem to Kick Critical Thinking Into High Gear

It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. Or maybe it’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. Or maybe your team meets on Thursdays around 11 a.m.  It’s that time of week where a group of smart go-getters sit down for their weekly data-dump meeting. Everyone goes around and shares what’s happening in their world. They give a progress report, share a few details and anecdotes — some more succinctly than others — and while they make their way around the conference room table, people are scribbling furiously. Not because they’re taking notes — nope — they’re writing down what it is they are going to say when it’s their turn to share. No one is all that engaged, no one is really listening, but it’s company protocol. Sound familiar?

Too many team leaders and their teammates are slogging their way through the day and working hard but not necessarily thinking hard. We optimize our skill sets and strengths, master our tasks and then become automatons who engage in critical thinking too infrequently.

It’s time to wake up our brains. A classic example that reveals how quickly we settle into habits is the following math exercise. Begin by adding a few simple numbers together in your mind. No need to write anything down — this is easy.

Start with 1,000.

Add 40.

Add another 1,000.

Add 30.

Add another 1,000.

Add 20.

Add another 1,000.

Add 10.

What do we get? Most people answer 5,000. Some shout out 6,000, others say 4,700, some guess 5,100. Very few say, 4,100.  Yet, 4,100 is the correct response. Don’t believe it? Please, do it again. It’s the last addition of 10 that messes with our mind. Most people get stuck adding 4,090 plus 10. They jump to 5,000. It’s basic brain behavior and one of the biggest barriers to greater productivity and profitability.

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