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Critical thinking 101 pt2


In concluding this two-part article, we explore what it means to think critically and how it can benefit your leadership and your business.

In another example, applying the critical thinking process to product development may allow for a more polished product. A company that markets to legal professionals, recognising that their customers are required to maintain continuing education credits, decides to create an online continuing education delivery tool.

The team member who first suggested the idea is heavily invested in the product, having dreamed it up and spent long hours developing it. Launching such a product without exposing it to a critical thinking process would be unwise; namely because the original developer may be too emotionally involved to spot potential flaws in their proposal.

A lengthier process that allows colleagues to test the product can reveal glitches or inconsistencies that deserve to be addressed ahead of time. The tool may get to market later and require more funding to develop, but will ultimately stand as a better product, which in turn could solidify the company’s relationship with their customer base.

Marketing professionals especially benefit from critical thinking. A product’s packaging, message and advertising is most successful when targeted at a specific demographic. Because marketing also relies on an emotional reaction from customers, it is absolutely crucial that multiple voices and viewpoints are brought to the table. Applied critical thinking skills also drive research and preparation. Take focus groups; when properly incorporated into product development, these groups can provide invaluable feedback – feedback that could alter the course of development altogether. And while the collaborative process takes longer and costs more – focus groups, for instance, can eat up a lot of time – the findings will bring about a highly targeted, highly effective marketing campaign.

How is critical thinking developed?

Ideally, critical thinking skills should be taught in school, but that’s not always the case. Students are more often passive consumers of an educator’s information dump, encouraged to absorb and then regurgitate key concepts. Because critical thinking requires conscious intervention in one’s own thought process, teachers could better instruct students to ask the questions that lead to a clear, objective answer.

Developing good critical thinking habits requires mastery of four basic skills:

  1. Knowledge. Asking questions about the issue at hand generates the critical thinking process. Who, what, when, where and why an issue occurs should be thoroughly explored.
  2. Comprehension. Once the information gathering is complete, collaborators should not only understand the information but also should be able to organise it and prioritise the ideas under discussion.
  3. Application. Using logical thinking, the application of facts and established rules to ideas can drive unbiased group decision making.
  4. Analysis. Taking apart a problem or process is required to critically approach solving it. Examining each component separately further educates each collaborator, and thereby informs decision making.

These particular skills do not naturally develop as we age and gain life experience. Our native approach to problem-solving causes us to create a story in response to an open-ended question. This story is packed with our own biases and prejudices, and therefore is usually incomplete. Learning to apply the critical thinking process teaches us to step out of our individual experiences to fully understand all aspects of the story.

How can I assess my critical thinking skills?

It can be difficult to adequately assess one’s strengths and weaknesses as a critical thinker. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is an industry favourite. This tool is an effective method of measuring one’s ability to make decisions based on solid critical thinking. The ability to practise good judgment, be open to new ideas and to think creatively are all assessed on a 40-item multiple choice test. Try some sample questions or take the test online to measure your cognitive ability.

How can I improve my critical thinking skills?

The development of good critical thinking skills is a lifelong learning experience; effective business people understand that there are valuable takeaways in every success and every mistake. Making the choice to consciously remove yourself from your own prejudices is a skill that can be honed with each business interaction. There are a few steps that you can take to refine your critical thinking skills as you move through your career.

  • Always take the time to clearly identify your goal. Asking the important questions immediately sets you up for the crucial information-gathering stage. Resist the temptation to dive into projects without first assessing exactly what you aim to accomplish and how you’re going to get there. This may seem obvious, but a surprising number of businesses skip this first step and suffer the consequences.
  • Know your own biases. None of us can escape our personal histories and cultural influences; good critical thinking requires us to acknowledge them so that we don’t allow them to infringe upon our decision making. When you have an emotional reaction to an issue, articulate exactly what that emotion is. Explore it and understand it so that it doesn’t colour future decisions.
  • Anticipate all consequences. In business, it’s tempting to focus on the success of your product or service. Applying critical thinking means that all outcomes, even negative or unintentional ones, are explored. Consider the impact of your choice on every stakeholder. If you made a poor one, scrutinise it to find your mistake(s); examining your process dispassionately may reveal your error and prevent you from repeating it.

Some business professionals find it useful to ask colleagues to challenge their ideas. Requesting input from a person who is emotionally detached from your project or idea can reveal quite a bit, perhaps even exposing an angle you hadn’t considered. This process requires you to be open to criticism and ready to accept that you may be wrong; if done well, however, it will lead you towards better decision making. And critical thinking, at its core, is all about making you a confident and effective decision maker. Someone who understands the right way to go about executing any idea and what they themselves bring to the table to make that execution of an idea top notch.

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