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Critical Thinking, A Necessary Ingredient In Problem Solving

September 12, 2016 Managing Your Business, Operational Excellence, Process Improvement

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.

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, easy to follow critical thinking tips:

5 Critical Thinking Tips:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Practice these approaches and make better decisions and solve problems more effectively. Enjoy the fruits of thinking critically.

OK, we’re reaching the outer limits of our focus capacity. If you would like to delve just a little deeper, join me for a webinar, CRITICAL THINKING: The Secrets to Successful Problem-Solving & Decision Making. http://bit.ly/2cR2wIU  I’ll be going through some of the most useful tools and how and when to use them and offering a white paper on one of the most powerful of the tools with an incredible track record.