What exactly is meant by the term “Critical Thinking”?
The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines it as “…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluation information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
Or, as paraphrased by Ransom Patterson in College Infogeek, critical thinking is simply “…deliberately and systematically processing information so that you can make better decisions and generally understand things better”. Critical thinking allows you to compare pros and cons. Without the use of critical thinking, you are very likely to miss other options that would have remained hidden.
The stakes are higher now. If you take a wrong turn, you may not have time to get back on track.
Critical thinking also helps you avoid being taken advantage of or being manipulated in either a personal or business setting because you won’t take things at face value.
Whenever you need to make an important decision for your business, critical thinking should play a role. The first step to critical thinking naturally requires you to gather information. To do this correctly, you need to:
1. Ask basic questions – these include:
· What do you already know
· How do you know that (don’t assume)
· What are you trying to prove, disprove, decide, etc.
· What am I overlooking?
2. Question your basic assumptions
3. Be aware of your cognitive biases and personal prejudices
4. Research other businesses that have had to make similar decisions
Once you have gathered all your information, you need to process it. There is a simple four step progression that is useful:
· Conceptualize – create an idea or vision of what the decision will look like, based on the information.
· o Analyze – methodically examine each piece of information for flaws, misconceptions and prejudices.
· o Synthesize – when you analyzed the information, you picked it apart. Now, to synthesize it, you put it together to create your best guess estimate as to what the results of the decision will look like. This is similar to conceptualization, but with greater clarity and probability.
· o Evaluate – this is the final step where you combine your critical thinking process and ascertain its impact on your decision making and what the final result looks like.
When you arrive at a decision based on deliberate critical thinking, rather than usual, causal or even automatic thinking, you can be sure that you are much more likely to have made the right decision.
An analysis of critical thinking for business would not be complete without the mention of intuitive decision making. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells the reader that "Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking".
Most successful business people obviously rely on their experience and knowledge when making decisions. For many of us, instinctive decision making based on past experience has often been enough to guide us through rough waters. COVID-19 has changed this. The stakes are higher now. If you make a wrong turn, you may not have time to get back on track.