Critical thinking is a coveted cognitive skill in a variety of vocational fields and employers often look for professionals that can problem solve in a complex world. The challenge for both individuals and organizations is to employ critical thinking skills on a regular basis so that they can actually produce results. In order to employ critical thinking, some organizations may need to employ particular methodologies or strategies. While many different philosophies exist, critical thinking in the workplace can often be summarized in three general steps.
Gathering information is the first part of critical thinking in the business setting but even before that, business professionals must make sure they are attacking the correct problem. Too often businesses attack a symptom of the problem rather than the actual problem. When gathering data, professionals should ask a number of ongoing questions. Professionals should question the quality of data, the origin, and the reliability of the presenter. Ultimately, business professionals should assess whether data can be trusted or whether further data should be sought. In a Google-oriented society, even experienced professionals can be tempted to make decisions on the first piece of data that is available. Asking questions does not mean that professionals should be difficult, paranoid, or indecisive. However, businesses flourish when staff members engage in a question-driven dialogue intended to adjudicate data.
The analysis of data is the next step in the critical thinking process and business professionals should continue to ask questions. Appropriate questions should be asked as to what the data means and what measurable conclusions can be drawn. The challenge faced by some businesses is that there may be a temptation to quickly move to a decision. Too often, professional will use phrases like “well I just think” or “in my experience” without having any reasoning to back up those statements. While it may be tedious, sometimes critical thinking requires a return to data collection and additional questions. When analyzing data, professionals must remember that they may prone to bias, errors, anecdotal evidence, and faulty reasoning. Businesses struggle when they are unwilling to inject a measure of humility into the process and realize that additional perspectives might be necessary.
Making decisions with flexibility
Ultimately, decisions do have to be made. In business, decision-making is ongoing process and organizations should avoid the temptation to stop asking questions. Many companies have struggled because they make decisions but are unwilling to evaluate them later. Therefore, they stick with decisions that are ultimately ineffective.
A lifestyle of analysis
Critical thinking is not a one-time event and a person cannot simply assume that they are an effective thinker because they decide to be. Once decisions are made, organizations still need to evaluate and be in a questioning mode. Business leaders cannot stubbornly stick to ineffective decisions simply because their pride will not let them admit a level of failure. Too often people will get comfortable with their typical way of doing things and will be unwilling to incorporate new ideas into the business model. Unfortunately the greatest barrier to critical thinking is often the individual person.
Critical thinking never ends.