How (and why) to use scientific thinking, even if you're not a scientist

The scientific method may be your key to solving novel problems in the workplace, writes Moiya McTier, doctoral candidate in astronomy at Columbia University, for Fast Company.

Scientists—like many professionals—must come up with creative solutions to problems and communicate their findings. Regardless of your profession, you can develop problem-solving and communication skills by adopting the mental framework of a scientist, McTier argues. Here's how:

Step 1: Stop making assumptions

Your brain subconsciously relies on shortcuts and biases when processing information throughout the day. And when these assumptions are wrong, they lead to mistakes.

McTier recommends taking a moment to separate the things you infer about a situation from the things you actually observe. When you separate the two, you're less likely to jump to illogical conclusions.

Keep reading: The 7 worst workplace habits—and how to shake them

Step 2: Ask questions

In the workplace, we often attempt to solve problems by working toward a specific goal or task. But McTier explains that this approach limits you from exploring all possible solutions. "You can become so focused on doing the thing you’re 'supposed' to do in the way you’re 'supposed' to do it that you miss potentially better solutions or more interesting problems." Instead, she recommends approaching work with questions to better understand the problem you are trying to solve.

Step 3: Form a hypothesis

When approaching new problems in the workplace, don’t forget to consider each factor that may affect your outcome. McTier recommends predicting the potential impact of each factor, then making an educated guess about the success of your approach.

Forming a hypothesis not only allows you to assess your work, but also gives you a "baseline against which to determine where your initial expectations were wrong, which could reveal biases that might be influencing other parts of your work" (McTier, Fast Company, 5/17).

Related: 3 of this year's most important workplace trends—and what they mean for colleges

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