To develop further as a strategic leader I need to increase my strategic thinking capability. So, I have been seeking out opportunities to learn about this subject. Now I understand it more, I thought that I would share what I have learned so far, to see if it can help you, and along the way bust some myths. 

Inspired by a colleague to access our internal learning platform I thought I'd do a bit of searching around to see if  I could find anything in there and found a great 'course', the highlights of which I wanted to share, in case you are trying to improve your critical thinking too.

There is method in this too. Look at how the top skills required at work has changed since 2015, with critical thinking rising to No 2 spot for Top 10 skills to have in 2020. 

So what is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

  • understand the logical connections between ideas
  • identify, construct, and evaluate arguments
  • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • solve problems systematically
  • identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  • reflect on the justification of one's own beliefs and values

Does a 'system' approach stifle creativity? No says the article. "Critical thinking is quite compatible with thinking "out-of-the-box", challenging consensus and pursuing less popular approaches.

Critical thinking promotes creativity. To come up with a creative solution to a problem involves not just having new ideas. It must also be the case that the new ideas being generated are useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones, and modifying them if necessary.

Analytical and critical thinking has a process, and if you follow the steps and know what to ask you will be going a long way to becoming an effective critical thinker. 

So how does it work?

The first three stages of analytical and critical thinking are;

  1. INTAKE - find out what the issue is - build a team to offer different perspectives 
  2. INVESTIGATE - gather the evidence - look at the data - this means not acting on a hunch
  3. ACTION - decide on what actions to take and act

Each stage has different tools that you can use to get to the nub of the issues. 

At the INTAKE phase you can use brainstorming, process diagrams and affinity maps to evaluate the evidence. You can use mind maps to organise data into themes and how they relate to each other.

At the INVESTIGATE stage you can develop flow diagrams to visualise the steps you need to take, use cause and effect diagrams where you can lay everything out and see the issues, and then start to challenge the reasoning.

At the ACTION stage there are a number of really effective questions that you can ask to help you decide on what to do;

  1. What does the evidence say?
  2. Is there any other way of interpreting the evidence?
  3. What are the consequences or implications of the evidence?
  4. What are the risks and benefits of the decisions to the organisation?
  5. What will it take to execute the plan?
  6. How are we going to learn from our actions?

This is where working in teams becomes important as you will need different inputs to see the issues from different perspectives. Don't feel you need to do this on your own - you need to seek different perspectives, and this is the beauty of this approach - you agree together before action is taken.

Knowing what tools to use at the different stages of analytical and critical thinking, and what questions you need to consider before you act, has really helped me understand what I need to do to solve problems.

Are you developing the Top 2 skill? If not, what's stopping you?