A Critical Case for Thinking

With the arrival of the worst health crisis in the last century due to COVID-19, and all the disruption that has caused, it would be fair to say that the practice of critical thinking is more important than ever. Decisive, bold actions may conform with stereotypes of ‘strong leadership” but in complex, rapidly changing situations where risk is high, experience is minimal, information is limited, and expert opinion is divided, perhaps a different decision-making process driven by humility, openness, thoughtfulness, collaboration, and an astute level of inquiry is required.  

Critical thinking is the use of a process of reason to determine what to do in a specific situation.  

Whilst it is unlikely any of us will be making decisions with National or State ramifications, the current situation highlights the need for critical thinking and effective decision-making.  

Have you ever worked with someone that nearly always makes the right decision in the right moment? They appear open-minded, reflective, independent, and competent in their work role. They seem to have this inherent ability to see work challenges from several perspectives. The chances are that they’re following a critical thinking process.  

Critical thinkers typically:  

  1. Try to logically connect ideas when considering information. They look for patterns of ideas.
  2. Consider the source. It’s assumed that every piece of information someone communicates is because they’re motivated to simply exchange knowledge. But what other motivations could there be? Consider these motivations.
  3. Scrutinise and evaluate arguments for and against ideas.
  4. Find inconsistencies and errors in current work practices and ask lots of questions.

If you’ve followed a critical thinking process you can be reasonably confident that you should be able to form an opinion. This opinion will be based on logic built from facts. 

What can you do with this information?  

Be brave and come up with some solutions. Reflect on how those solutions are likely to play out. 

As you can see above, critical thinking is not a rushed “thinking on the run” process or pressure thinking. Pressure thinking doesn’t allow time for research, collaboration, or self-reflection.  

Consider that effective-decision making is a high-return task. You could say that an organisation’s success is the sum of its decisions made by its employees. So how do we improve the way we think at work? What priority should it have in your workday? 

If you are time-poor perhaps consider turning a boring weekly team meeting into a powerhouse of collaboration where you share issues, scrutinise arguments and ideas, and problem-solve together. 

The following are some question examples to help get your team started at the next “boring” team meeting: 

  • What do we know (or believe we know) about this problem? 
  • What do we know as fact and as opinion? 
  • Are the facts out-dated? Or need to be re-visited? 
  • What can’t we know for absolute certain, or how could we possibly discover this? 
  • Have we seen this problem before in some other version? 
  • Do we know of any past problems or issues related to this? How were those challenges met? 
  • How can we restate or re-phrase the question to deepen our understanding? 
  • Can we come up with a solution that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART)? 
  • Let’s reflect on how that solution is likely to play out.  

In summary, observation, analysis, self-reflection, team collaboration, communication and problem-solving are important elements of critical thinking. The more people that practise critical thinking, the more likely an objective truth can be reached regarding issues or problems. 

Author: Steve Noone, Edited by Chris Rattray