How to become a Critical Thinker

“I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills, whether it’s questioning assumptions, or looking at problems from multiple points of view.” – David A. Garvin of the Harvard Business School

This post was inspired by John Baldoni’s HBR article How Leaders Should Think Critically.

Question assumptions

Critical thinkers are inquisitive and look to find the what and the why behind every proposition.

This is where a 5 why’s approach can help you get to what’s not exposed to the naked eye or first impressions. When faced with a situation, before taking action, ask yourself “why” at least 3-5 times for the circumstance to exist.

In doing this, you’ll break through the emotional & subjective baggage we all have and that typically skews the required objective perspective that provides for the best decisions.

Adopt different perspectives

Take advantage of the genders and cultures represented in today’s diverse management landscape. In todays workforce we have the privilege, as well as the challenge, of actively co-existing with 3 generations (X, Y & Z). Put aside your personal bias & gut instinct for now.. ask questions.. get varying perspectives.. understand your subjects own biases & viewpoints.. understand their background, history & experience. Having all of these facts & opinions on-board, it’s now time to engage your gut instinct, intuition & practical experience to make a more balanced and effective decision.

See potential

Assumption-busting and harnessing multiple perspectives are deductive skills. Critical thinkers should also have a creative bent that allows them to see opportunities where others see obstacles. For every challenge you see or are presented with, ask yourself how you can address this challenge by “turning it around”. Example; economical conditions are a challenge that many might feel are out of their control, yet what can you do proactively to minimize an eventual impact on your business?

Change your invoicing model to pre-paid, partially pre-paid or scaled in conjunction with deliverables? Offer a discount for 30 day payment terms instead of your typical 60 or 90? There’s no such thing as “eliminating” your challenges, but you can surely address them in order to diminish the possibility of their more destructive or disruptive impact.

Manage ambiguity

The speed of business, intertwined as it is with global factors and complex supply chains, dictates that you will never know all the variables. Here’s the most complicated part for most of us; You need to get comfortable with operating in an environment where change is constant and rapid decisions are required.

WOW.. that’s a powerful sentence!?! Getting comfortable with ambiguity is a gradual process and you should proceed with caution as to what degree you’re comfortable with. Gradually expand those boundaries and this will become easier for you. Caution; too much ambiguity isn’t healthy so make sure you have reasonable limits and that you monitor the speed at with the ambiguity increases. Some call this managing chaos and it’s really down to each individual to determine their comfort level.

If you too believe that we live in a world of growing uncertainty, in which we will need sharp critical thinkers who can quickly size up the situation, realize the potential where others may not, and immediately seize opportunities through prompt decision-making, then what are the tools that you’ve got on-board to ensure that you can make this happen?

How can you be absolutely sure that your team has the skills on-board and the greatest opportunity to “get the right work done”?

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