One of the most often expressed criticisms of the Millennial Generation (born 1982 –2003), is that it seems to have lost all ability to analyze data, examine the logic and wisdom of a proposition, or read a blog and sort out the good and the bad in the argument being advanced.
Usually described as “critical thinking,” this type of skill seems to be absent from a generation focused on sharing, communicating and finding group consensus.
Often, the lack of critical thinking skills is attributed to the generation’s constant use of social media. Indeed, one of the traits older generations find most annoying about Millennials is their constant “pinging” of their friends to find out what the group thinks rather than making a prompt and decisive choice on their own.
As Millennials begin to assume positions of authority within society, many people, particularly those in the Baby Boomer generation, are increasingly concerned about this missing skill and determined to find ways to teach it to a generation raised on the Net.
But the very same Boomers who deride Net-based group decision-making would quickly agree that the most effective way to learn is through trial and error.
Nature and society evolve using this simple technique and Chaos theory suggests the perfection of the most incredibly complex systems occurs through this simple process of continuing what works and discarding what doesn’t.
Yet, to a large extent, the use of critical thinking as a means to solve problems contradicts this truth about natural selection and evolution. Rather than having expert thinkers come up with the right solution to a problem, the process of trial and error creates multiple experiments that attempt to solve the problem and uses objective empirical results to determine the best solution.
With this approach, more trials – and errors – produce better results. This concept is used every day on a range of problems, from the creation and maintenance of complex operating systems to a simple search on Google.
Since individual effort is normally contributed cost free to the process, this method provides an incredibly inexpensive way to conduct trials and sort out errors from valid solutions.
That is the type of problem solving approach Millennials have used almost since birth.
They use it every day on social networks such as Facebook or YouTube to decide what movie to go to, at which restaurant to eat, and even for which candidates to vote. Rather than insisting on solving society’s challenges using the inherited, but inevitably limited wisdom of experts, Millennials would prefer to share their ideas and let the group find the right answer through their combined experiences.
Given how far astray critical thinking has often taken us, maybe it’s time to embrace the Millennial Generation’s approach and see if it leads to even better results than the preferred methods of older generations have given us. In so doing, we may find another proof of the old Biblical adage that out of the mouths, or in this case the text messages, of babes comes wisdom.