Critical thinking is the ability to think objectively, using facts to form a judgement or point of view.
Why are Critical Thinking Skills Important?
People underestimate the power their subconscious biases and emotions can have on their decision making. Strong critical thinkers will be able to analyze a situation objectively, based solely on facts from unbiased research. Such skills are important to reverse potentially unproductive groupthink and even recognize overlooked problems facing an organization. In many ways, critical thinking skills enable individuals to have a birds eye view of current and future problems, challenges and opportunities.
Critical thinking allows you to question processes and push people to think bigger or more imaginatively about organizational success. Many of today’s most innovative companies thrive due to their ability to think critically and challenge their own business norms:
Airbnb challenged a hotel industry overlooking people’s desire to travel as locals.
Casper challenged a mattress industry by surfacing the most overlooked, yet important, aspect of the mattress: sleep.
Method challenged a cleaning industry by championing the idea that cleaning can be fun.
An important critical thinking lesson can be learned here: if you’re not willing to question and improve the status quo, you may miss out on potentially fruitful opportunities. While none of these categories were necessarily having problems or underperforming, they were disrupted when companies were observant and questioned the status quo.
How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills
Improving critical thinking skills starts with recognizing your own biases and becoming self aware of how your own experiences may shape or skew your ability to judge, or evaluate, a situation. It involves taking a step back and understanding each side of a problem and then using facts to make decisions.
How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Adults
As an adult, critical thinking skills can take some rewiring of how you think. But this rewiring is achievable. For many, this can mean overcoming one’s pride or questioning one’s own experiences by having an open mind and imagining new possibilities. With ample practice, new skills can not only help in their professional life, but their personal one too.
What are The Basics of Critical Thinking Skills?
Critical thinking typically involves a process like the following:
- Observation: Developing the key question to be solved. This can involve anything from writing in a journal to listening deeper or studying someone’s body language in conversation.
- Analysis: Gathering unbiased information, data, and facts to help you form a conclusion. This can involve speaking to others, conducting a survey, or even reading a book.
- Inference: Applying information to create an unbiased conclusion. This can mean mind-mapping a thought-process or scenario-setting to see which solution best fits.
- Communication: sharing your solution with others verbally or in writing. This could be shared via conversation or by writing an email memo to your organization.
- Problem-Solving: Considering implications and reworking solutions and your point of view based on outcomes. This can mean analyzing results or gathering feedback from others and making key decisions about how to course-correct.
A Proven Technique to Improve Workplace Decision Making – Six Thinking Hats
The “Six Thinking Hats” allows team members tasked with decision making to view problems from different perspectives, one perspective at a time. It was developed by Edward de Bono and originally published in 1985. Many companies use it for brainstorming meetings, identifying and solving problems, engaging people at all levels and improving the productivity of the thinking process.
The group systematically discusses solutions to the problem using one of the “Thinking Hat” perspectives at a time to produce a well rounded, structured and thoroughly vetted action plan. The ‘Hats” used are:
- Blue Hat: During the critical thinking meeting, the facilitator wears the “blue” hat and decides which hat approach is needed and in what order it should be used in the brainstorming meeting.
- White Hat: Review all the available facts and data, including trends and critical questions / data needs to be pursued further.
- Red Hat: Allow your emotions or gut reaction to prevail without trying to understand it, thus tapping into the enormous potential of the experiences “recorded” in the subconscious mind.
- Yellow Hat: Next turn it around and review all the values and benefits of the decision.
- Black Hat: Review all potential pitfalls and risk factors. You may also make contingency plans during this stage of the critical thinking process.
- Green Hat: Think only about creative solutions without worrying about criticism. Anything goes.
5 Examples of Critical Thinking Skills
Skilled critical thinkers are able to do the following:
- Ask Provocative Questions – understand the big picture and ask the tough questions that may affect company processes.
- Self-Reflect – leaders must be able to check themselves and their own biases by taking time to question their own processes.
- Communicate Openly – critical thinkers are willing to share their thoughts even if it means being vulnerable or inviting scrutiny.
- Think Creatively – recognize the power of creativity in solving even serious and complex business problems.
- Open-minded – don’t shy away from possibility and are able to look at all angles of a situation freely.
How Lynn Reed Teaches Critical Thinking Skills
Lynn Reed applies the same critical thinking skills he teaches in his own approach in evolving your organization to think more critically. By understanding more about your current business, processes and employees’ perspectives, he can develop a program designed to unlock a more observant and effective point of view from your employees. Lynn has experience teaching critical thinking skills. Lynn pioneered electronic decision support technology at JPMorgan globally and has been quoted as an expert in group dynamics and decision making in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Fortune Magazine and The American Banker. With programs ranging from Creative Thinking to Organization & Team Development, Lynn Reed is committed to helping you grow your organization.
De Bono, E. (2016). “Six Thinking Hats,” Penguin