You Better Think!

 A Critical Doer attacks problems and creates opportunities from the inside out 


You better think!  I could listen to the great Aretha Franklin sing that iconic tune from “The Blues Brothers” a thousand times and it would never get old.  Besides being a great tune, it’s sage advice…and I’m about to prove it.

Here’s a short test to challenge your critical thinking skills.  It’s called the Cognitive Reflection Test, and it was developed by Professor Shane Frederick at MIT in 2005.  Click here to reference the original document…and no peeking at the rest of the post to see the answers until you’ve given it an honest effort spending no more than 30 seconds per question.


(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____ cents


(2) If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes


(3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____ days


Now that you’re back, let’s review.  For question 1, I bet you said 10 cents…and you’re wrong.  The answer is 5 cents.

For question 2, I bet you said 100 minutes…and you’re wrong.  The answer is 5 minutes.

For question 3, I bet you said 24 days…yep, you’re wrong again.  The answer is 47 days.


Don’t feel badly if you didn’t get them all correct. When Frederick administered this test to Ivy League students, the average was 1.9 correct responses…at the most prestigious schools in the world!

In a time compressed environment, such as the one where this test was administered, rushing to get to the answer without clearly understanding the question can make the simple exceedingly difficult.  Each of the 3 questions are relatively simple, but the way they are phrased will lead you to an incorrect response if you don’t pause for a moment, like a seasoned Critical Doer, and precisely understand the problem.

But here’s an interesting twist.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, described a follow up test where the same questions were given to Princeton students but with less time and printed in hard to read small print.  Amazingly, the average improved from 1.9 to 2.45 correct answers.

The stressors of less time and hard to read print caused the test takers to focus harder on the questions.  The extra concentration contributed to a better understanding of the question and consequently, a higher number of successful outcomes.

Your challenge is to apply the lessons of this vignette regardless of whether you’re asking or answering the questions.  If you’re asking the question, think carefully about how the words you choose and the sequence in which you use them could cause a listener to interpret your question differently than you had intended.  If you’re answering the question, be wary of your environment and how it can be producing distractions that could lead you to rush to an answer that is not correct.  You better think, because that’s exactly what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: August 7, 2015 — 1:17 am

1 Comment

  1. Interesting read! This is in response to this part: “If you’re asking the question, think carefully about how the words you choose and the sequence in which you use them could cause a listener to interpret your question differently than you had intended.”

    I read a great book a few years ago called Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath. They mentioned another study called Tappers and Listeners (i think that is the name) and how it illustrates the Curse of Knowledge. This is a HBR article on it ( In short, it is difficult to empathize with someone who does not know what you know. We, as human beings, have trouble remembering what it is like not to have information that we have now. This difficulty gives us a kind of default setting as poor communicators that we have to consciously overcome.

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