The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully:
conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information
gathered from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication,
as a guide to belief and action.
Every organization must be nimble when solving new and recurring challenges. Everyone must be able to use critical thinking and creative problem solving to take action on these challenges.
How sharp are our skills? How often do we spring into action when faced with a problem or challenge instead of taking some time to reflect and analyze critically? Could we describe our work environments as those where firefighting is the norm...and we don’t even get to be a hero and race into burning buildings to save toddlers?
In our selfie-obsessed, multi-tasking, twittering world it is easy to let our mental muscles atrophy as our thumbs become more flexible and fast. Business, government, nonprofits, and humans can’t afford the luxury of giving up the characteristic that gave our species its name; we are Homo sapiens, the THINKING people.
Because nobody reads long deep articles anymore, or so I’m told, here are 5 tips that can set us back on the progressive evolutionary track to expand our brain for more usefulness than just supporting our backwards-facing ball caps. (I say us, our, and we because I’m as guilty of the rush to action - action rush as anyone else.)
5 Critical Thinking Tips:
Challenge every assumption, belief, fact, idea, suggestion, solution, conventional wisdom, experience. When we face a challenge, our brain is ready to take us down the tried and true path we've trod before. This is useful in many situations. But it is potentially disastrous when the challenge is new, nuanced, and nasty. Critical thinking requires us to Stop, Look, and Listen or the oncoming train will mow us down.
Assemble some other brains to generate more diverse perspective. There’s a classic story of an air plane developing severe problems flying over the ocean. The captain quickly assembled the entire team; they analyzed the situation critically, figured out a solution, made a plan, carried it out, and saved the day. Two points are important here: first, they had all been thoroughly trained in critical thinking and team problem solving; second, they had only 20 minutes to do this. So the next time we face a big crisis, we must ask ourselves if we’re going to crash and die in 20 minutes or if we could take a little time to come up with a great solution.
Use the tools of critical thinking and problem solving. Many of the best tools to help us think critically and solve problems creatively have been around for a long time and only require pencil, paper, and a brain. Tools like SWOT analysis, force-field analysis, prioritization, comparison matrices, forced-choice matrices, and others are easy to use and understand without much effort. When everyone is trained and familiar with the mechanics, the process can run efficiently as well as effectively.
Appoint the Loyal Opposition. Even when we are trained and experienced, it is still easy to get on those old paths. Have at least one person take on the role of challenging everything. This will force us to examine, explain, and elucidate everything. We must avoid Group Think at all costs. Because we will all have a chance to be the Loyal Opposition at successive meetings, we avoid dismissing the critical questions because it comes from the same person every time.
Learn Lessons and Launch a Legacy. Once the crisis passes, the challenge is met, and the problem is solved, our work is not over. In fact, examining what we have learned is as important as dealing with the immediate situation. Reassemble the brains and now put on our critical thinking caps to figure out what we learned. What worked? Why? What didn’t? Why? What else could we have done? What could we have done differently? The questions must probe into every nook and cranny of the process. If we avoid stupid blame games, we will build up our store of problem solving experiences, assure we continue to improve, and become even more effective and efficient.
Taken from a LinkedIn article of Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Ph.D. and president of Advantage Leadership, Inc.. Dr. Rebecca was trained as a geneticist and medical researcher and learned to apply her critical thinking skills as a manager in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She works with leaders and managers, so they achieve their strategic goals applying critical thinking to pressing challenges, strategic planning, and leadership, team, and organizational development.