As business owners and managers we’re often working in a business environment which is constantly changing and presenting us with new challenges, which, in itself can be a challenge. Some of the challenges we face can include where do we locate our offices? How should we expand our customer base? How do we select a supplier who can meet our needs? and How do we handle a disruption to business such as a power failure? Critical thinking is a skill we can use to help in the decision making we face.
In management of the business, creativity, innovation and problem solving are key activities. Critical thinking helps perform these activities with greater clarity, as decision making is not based on rash conclusions, but on reasoning, open-mindedness and evidence. Critical thinking is important as it helps us think creatively and think ‘outside the box’ to look for problem solving solutions and opportunities for innovation.
We can use critical thinking skills in many of the day to day management activities such as problem solving, decision making, evaluating proposals, prioritising, communication, resolving conflict and disputes and information processing. A key aspect of critical thinking is that it widens your perspective and keeps you from becoming narrow in your thinking and develops your judgement, evaluation and problem solving skills.
Quite often, when we think of ‘thinking’ we assume it is concerned with the left side of our brain, the side which controls our logic and rational thought. However, critical thinking also uses right side brain functionality, our creativity and imagination, as critical thinking uses non-traditional thinking (creative right side of the brain), grounded in traditional, logical thought (logical left side of the brain).
So, what is critical thinking? It’s a type of thinking which questions assumptions, draws inferences, uses evidence and facts to decide what to believe or not to believe when analysing and evaluating information. It’s not accepting things at ‘face value’ but asking questions and looking for evidence and reason before decisions are taken.
Simply stated, critical thinking is the ability to analyse and evaluate information.
Here are 5 tips to improve your critical thinking skills to help with problem solving and innovation.
- Ask questions: Keep asking questions in terms of the problem faced and the information gathered in a clear and precise form that furthers understanding; don’t draw to conclusions without first understanding all the key aspects. This may mean having to consider several sides of an argument and ‘pushing back’ on certain assumptions or viewpoints. Through questioning, assumptions may need to be adjusted as new evidence is uncovered; and most importantly, there is an understanding of how conclusions and assumptions were reached and you are in a position to identify what is fact and known and what isn’t.
- Distinguish fact from opinion: It is important to seek several views, or multiple sources and perspectives on the issue, not just accept one view; this widens your perspective on the issue. Also by recognising and understanding any assumptions which have been made will help identify if here is any bias and persuasion in the reasoning.
- Have balance: This is a key part of the evaluation as most often decision making involves taking a balanced approach. For example information needs to be evaluated for relevancy and accuracy with a balance between logic and emotion.
- Keep an open mind: Sometimes this can be a difficult skill to adopt, but thinking with an open mind can recognise and assess various assumptions, implications and consequences of different solutions and scenarios. This allows well thought out conclusions and solutions, tested against relevant criteria to be identified and reduces the potential to be unduly influenced by other’s thinking.
- Evaluate openly: All conclusions and solutions should be tested against relevant criteria and standards. This will ensure well thought out decisions are based on sound rationale and evidence. When based on evidence, this provides the platform for inferences and informed or educated guesses to be made; so conclusions and solutions can be explained and justified as to how they have been reached.
Business owners and management face huge challenges such as increasing global competition, rising costs, new technology as well as the economic and political backdrop. So being able to think through complex issues and problems in these ever changing times is a key skill to getting the competitive edge. Through the practice of critical thinking, decisions, innovation and problem solving will be reached based on well-reasoned foundations, open mindedness and evidence; to assist business navigate the challenges it faces.