By Bryan Kramer | Business, Commentary, Featured

How Critical Thinking is the Mother of all Skills

Business is fast-paced and driven by innovation, which means that candidates need to be agile and able to respond to rapidly changing situations. Customer demands are constantly developing and risks need to be managed, alongside smart decision-making for businesses to move forward.

Because of the speed that businesses function at, there’s a danger that organizations adopt group-think and try to make decisions as quickly as possible, instead of focusing on making the best ones.

And this is what we’ll focus on in this article.

There’s a key skill that can help to link ideas together, problem-solve using different perspectives and bring the art of deliberation back into decision-making.

Critical thinking could arguably be the most important skill to possess in a modern business environment – let’s look at why.

Strategizing using Critical Thinking

Thinking critically urges individuals and businesses alike to slow down, examine evidence and test out different ideas and theories. Similar to Daniel Kahneman’s 2 system theory that encourages us to use our brain’s System 2 way of thinking and adopt logic, reason and slow thinking to tackle problems. By testing and experimenting with ideas, you’re strengthening the conclusions that you come to.

Approaching problems and business ideas critically is about trying to look at a concept objectively and remove your biases, emotion and instinctive reactions from decision-making. For example, this could lead to the collection of market research data using questions that don’t elicit the best responses because of bias questioning.

This can also lead to more serious repercussions like design bias in product development stages – it was only in 2011 that female crash dummies started to be used in crash testing. Why was no-one suggesting this until then? Just one stark example that shows the diversity of decision making and collaboration create better environments and products.

How can you practice critical thinking?

For some, critical thinking occurs quite easily and it’s a logical step to take when solving problems, but the idea of critical thinking being a ‘skill’ is because it does need to be consciously practiced as most people think uncritically. This can lead to prejudiced, subjective and irrational decisions guided by emotion and not fact.

Most business decisions deserve something more complex and concrete than simplistic decisions.

  • Think about your own biases and prejudices and try to put them to one side.
  • Aim to collect as much info on a subject as possible and gather data.
  • Ask questions, get feedback and collaborate with your team to get different perspectives.
  • Evaluate all of the info you’ve got.
  • Try to think outside the box.
  • Come up with several different solutions and test short and long-term consequences.

Critical thinking exists to a degree in every job role and element of a business, from the CEO to a customer service rep. Thinking critically enables everyone to make measured, positive contributions to a company.

There is always the capacity for something to go wrong in a role or an unexpected event to occur, so practicing critical thinking is a skill that people can carry forward into whatever new role or industry they work in.

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Companies want Critical Thinkers

Businesses are in tune with the importance of developing critical skills and attracting talented employees that possess these traits. Since 2009, the number of job descriptions mentioning the desire for candidates with critical thinking skills has increased massively.

An example of this in practice is Goldman Sachs’ recruitment strategy, which looks to test out candidates critical thinking skills by asking them to evaluate a stock pitch or a market valuation and explain their thinking process and conclusion.

Building exercises into recruitment structures that test critical thinking skills is a good way to attract candidates with creative ways of thinking and approaching problem-solving.

How to Measure Critical Thinking

If you’re looking to design a measurement process for critical thinking skills then there are several basic principles that can be followed:

  • Look at how an individual interprets evidence and assesses information in front of them.
  • Is someone asking lots of relevant questions to gather more data?
  • Are they picking out key information?
  • Is a candidate being open-minded, fair and avoiding bias?
  • Have they reached reasonable conclusions instead of jumping through thought processes?
  • Are conclusions backed up with evidence and justifiable?

We could certainly do with more critical thinking when we navigate our way through society, as customers, employees, and citizens. Critical thinking should be an integral part of a school and higher education curriculums, recruitment strategies, and workplace environments, so we can work towards finding the best solutions.

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