How To Think More Critically

How To Think More Critically

Critical thinking is one of the most critical skills for leaders. When it comes to making decisions, crafting strategy, or even just solving smaller problems, leaders are called on to think more critically than those they lead. And as the world becomes more complex, thinking critically has never been more important.

Unfortunately, thinking critically has never been more absent either. Whether its business leaders failing to find a winning plan of action to keep the company alive, or governmental leaders failing to consider the ramifications of their decisions when faced with crises situations, too many leaders have jumped too quickly to the first conclusions discovered or turned their thinking off all together and just fell in line with “best practices.”

And often where you do see leaders demonstrate critical thinking, it’s done in the service of choosing the evidence and argument that supports their prior preferences.

Fortunately, critical thinking is a learned behavior. Research into metacognition—or thinking about thinking—reveals four simple tactics anyone can apply to grow their critical thinking skills. So, in this article, we’ll outline four ways leaders can think more critically.

Borrow Diverse Brains

The first tactic to think more critically is to borrow diverse brains. Your brain is an amazing tool, but it’s also a limited one. You’ve only been exposed to certain information. You’ve only developed certain knowledge, skills, and abilities. And you’ve only collected so many past experiences. And because of those limitation, the easiest way to think more critically is to tap into the limited (but different) knowledge and experiences of others.

All ideas are combinations of preexisting ideas. So, when you’re trying to find the right idea—the right solution—to the right situation, gathering as many preexisting ideas as possible gives you the best chance of finding the right combination.

Question Your Assumptions

The second tactic to think more critically is to question your assumptions. In many ways, this tactic ties into the previous one. Behind every idea our brain will generate is a set of assumptions. And often we make assumptions about the situation we’re facing that turn out to be totally inaccurate. But a critical thinker is willing to constantly question those assumption—to find out if they’re really true or if they were true once but aren’t true any longer.

Roger Martin once proposed a simple question for questioning assumptions that can be a great tool if used early and often as ideas are being discussed: “What would have to be true for this to be our best option?” In other words, as you’re thinking up ideas, take the time to question what that idea requires to be the winning solution. Then, question those answers.

Find The Right Question

The third tactic to think more critically is to find the right question. Even before we borrow diverse brains or question our assumptions, one of the first assumptions we should challenge is whether we’re solving the right problem in the first place. Often leaders and teams are first confronted with a symptom of a problem posing as an actual problem. Something goes wrong and we circle together to generate ideas for how to solve it. But it’s worth first going upstream to examine any potential causes of the problem we spotted and decide if there isn’t a more important question that needs to be answered.

One of motivational guru Tony Robbins’ more popular sayings is both true and fitting here: “If you ask better questions, you’ll get better answers.”

Consider The Implications

The final tactic to think more critically is to consider the implications. In a way, this tactic is the inverse of the prior tactic. Before generating solutions, it’s helpful to move upstream to ensure the right question is asked. But after generating ideas, it’s equally helpful to move downstream and examine if the implications of that idea make it the right solution. Every team is embedded in the larger system of an organization, and every organization is embedded in larger systems still. So any idea, when implemented, will have effects on that system that ought to be considered before choosing to act.

Otherwise, you may find out that you’ve solved all your problems with bigger problems. And you’ll have to start the whole process over again, and hopefully, you’ll think more critically when you do.

 

When you consider all four tactics listed above, you start to notice something ironic. While these tactics are a part of metacognition—hinking about thinking— they don’t really seem like thinking at all. They seem like habits. They seem like skills that ought to be developed and then employed often. And that’s the best way to look at them. If you use them once, you may stumble into a better solution than before. But if you use them often, you’ll be leading your team and the whole organization down a path to improvement—a path where everyone can do their best work ever.


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