To describe Henry Ford as a revolutionary thinker would be putting it mildly. Ford was one of the greatest innovators of the past two hundred years—a truly creative mind who wanted to do things differently. Unfortunately, many people think of him as the inventor of the automobile, which isn’t exactly right. The automobile already existed by the time Ford came along, but it was considered a luxury item. Only the rich could afford such an expensive purchase. Automobiles, after all, were the luxury yachts of their time. It was Henry Ford and his critical thinking skills that changed the game for everyone.
Ford didn’t comply with the status quo. He questioned why automobiles had to be so pricey. In doing this, he saw the problem and offered a solution: the assembly line. That one change transformed the world, all thanks to a critical thinker who imagined an incredible solution.
Critical thinkers are fueled by their desire to get to the truth of matters. Instead of accepting things for the way they’ve always been, those with excellent critical thinking skills find opportunities for transformation and change.
Critical thinking skills of this type are sadly absent from the business world, though. A survey from PayScale found that 60 percent of managers said problem-solving and critical thinking were the two soft skills recent college graduates lacked the most. However, critical thinking is something leaders and employees desperately need in order for an organization to thrive. Without it, you end up with a group of people who recite information and accept things at face value. It creates a work environment with little innovation and few solutions to long-term problems. This results in a business that doesn’t improve or excel at anything.
Luckily, critical thinking is a skill people can learn and practice over time. This article will show what critical thinking is and how you can develop it.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a skill whereby a person is able to use reason, understanding, and logic to create solutions to pressing problems. Someone who can think critically is able to evaluate and process information from an unbiased perspective. Critical thinkers make sure the sources they use are authoritative and provide accurate, concrete facts. By going with this approach, critical thinkers can discover the truth about a problem and supply an effective solution. Someone who uses critical thinking can build persuasive arguments, find errors in reasoning, link different ideas together, focus on the most relevant pieces of information about an issue, and properly evaluate their own biases and core values.
Why Do Leaders and Employees Need Critical Thinking Skills?
- It creates problem-solvers at every level of an organization. Businesses don’t have to rely on top executives for every solution.
- Solutions happen more quickly and organically. Gone are the days when employees have to wait for approval about every little thing. They can instead take the initiative and get the job done right away.
- Workers can identify errors and inconsistencies with more accuracy.
- The right priorities come to the forefront. Employees and leaders will be able to see what needs to be done first and tackle those tasks quickly.
- It helps workers understand and prepare for the consequences of certain decisions. Critical thinking allows them to create clear links between cause and effect. This leaves them prepared for what may happen in the future.
- Critical thinking also facilitates greater innovation. People at all levels of an organization can contribute new ideas that can improve business performance and results.
How to Engage in Critical Thinking
Critical thinking involves using effective skills to find solutions to current problems. It’s important to note that critical thinking skills involve actions you need to take. Critical thinking is a process, one that you should follow if you want to get to the heart of an issue. Whenever you encounter the problem, you can follow these steps to unlock the potential of critical thinking.
1. Observe and Identify the Problem
This step recognizes that something is wrong. As you go about your life, whether it is personal or professional, you observe that there is a problem that requires a solution. With critical thinking skills, you can pinpoint what that problem is. This step represents the start of the critical thinking process because without observation, you can’t make progress. When you’re a keen observer, you’re able to acknowledge not only current problems but possible future problems that might arise some time down the road.
Being an effective critical thinker requires being a careful observer. One way to notice problems is to not just be focused on the short-term. That requires having a vision, knowing where you want to go and what you want to be. This vision is what guides you in all your endeavors, including the development of your critical thinking skills. Stephen R. Covey refers to this as beginning with the end in mind, his second habit from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He writes that starting with the end in mind “is to begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined.”
It is from this frame of reference that you can notice and identify problems. With the right vision, you’ll have a deeper perspective and understand that decisions made today will have long-term consequences. In this way you can anticipate the effects of decisions.
For more information, find out how to create a vision for your life.
2. Analyze and Research the Problem
With the problem identified, you can’t go barreling forward with a solution. You first need to analyze it, researching as much as you can to gain the necessary knowledge to reach a solution. While the first step helps you figure out what’s wrong, this step determines why the problem is wrong. The goal is to get to the root of the problem. Think of it as a form of diagnosis. You don’t want a doctor to prescribe a solution without knowing what’s causing your symptoms. The same holds true for any problem you encounter. only once you know the causes through research will you be able to address the problem effectively.
To do this, you can adopt the 5 Whys approach. This technique boils things down to a simple question: why? The more you ask this question, the closer you get to the root of the problem. Sakichi Toyoda of Toyota Industries created this technique decades ago, and it’s still effective today. Here’s how to do it.
- Ask people in the know why the problem has happened.
- For each answer that you get, ask “why” at least four more times. This gets to the real cause of the problem.
- When you determine the root cause, there’s no need to go further.
- With this knowledge in hand, you can proceed to solve the problem.
3. Solve the Problem Using Groupthink
With the root problem now found, you can bring the issue to a group of experts to study it. Getting a team together with the requisite knowledge and experience is a valuable way to think of solutions. As this group uses first principles thinking, they’ll engage in critical thinking in this search for an answer. You can think of this third step as determining what needs to be done. The solution might not be easy to implement, but with the right minds involved, you’ll be able to pursue it with full confidence that you’re on the right path.
Some people might believe that critical thinking is a “forge your own path” type of philosophy, but in reality it relies on the thoughts and expertise of many people. Surround yourselves with knowledgeable people who hold the same core values. Follow first principles thinking to the inevitable conclusion. With more minds involved, you can be sure you’ll reach the right solution.
The next step of critical thinking requires creating a plan to enact the solution. This step determines how everything needs to be done and who needs to do it. Strategizing goes into detail on how to implement the solution. The more detailed the plan of action is, the easier it will be to follow. This might include a checklist, ensuring every step can be followed with certainty.
This step also delegates responsibilities. It shows who needs to do what and when they need to do it. The strategizing process might go through several drafts before you finalize it. As you do this, it’s important to keep the solution in mind at all times and never deviate from that. Planning might include reverse engineering a problem, knowing the destination and working backward from there. As you create this plan, you’ll also be able to measure your progress, providing you with added momentum as you get closer to reaching the end.
5. Execute the Solution
In the previous step, you created a plan that would bring about the solution. Think of that plan like a playbook. For this step, you actually follow that playbook to the smallest detail. Use that plan to overcome the challenges and obstacles that show up. Believe in the plan, and execute it with determination and enthusiasm.
It can be easy to feel bogged down when things might not be going as smoothly as you thought they would. But as long as you’re making progress, you can push forward knowing you’re getting closer to changing the world for the better. Check in with others to see how they’re doing with their parts of the plan. Show optimism whenever possible. Critical thinking means following through on what you laid out, even if problems appear.
6. Adjust and Improve Based on New Information
No plan is perfect. As you execute the plan, you may gather additional data about the problem. With this new information, you need to be prepared to pivot. This level of flexibility is an essential part of practicing critical thinking. While sticking to your plan is important, if more information shows that you need to make adjustments, do so. The goal should still remain the same, but make any modifications that are necessary during the process.
Even if the new data doesn’t call for a total overhaul of your strategy, you should also look for ways to improve your existing plan. See if there’s a way to streamline things. Move people in your team around so their skill sets match what they’re doing. As you refine your strategy, you’ll be able to implement the solution more quickly.
Critical Thinking Examples in the Workplace
Junior Team Members
As a junior team member, you may think your contributions to the organization are fairly limited, but a critical thinker does not act that way. Your critical thinking skills can first be used on yourself, evaluating your own performance and determining how best you can help out. List out your contributions and the effect your work has on the company’s outcomes. At the same time, list potential future contributions and how they will benefit the organization. This shows a willing attitude and desire to help others reach their potential as well.
Managers have other difficulties when it comes to critical thinking. Not only do they have to practice it themselves, but they have to make sure others on the team have critical thinking skills as well. When forming your team, make sure to hire people who are innovative thinkers. Ask them about problems they’ve encountered before and how they came up with creative solutions to solve them. Once they’re part of the team, they will continue to display those skills. In addition to this, teach your team the critical thinking skills listed above so they can develop ideas and solutions on their own. This helps businesses innovate and allows managers to focus less on putting out fires and more on guiding their team members to accomplish the company’s top goals.
As you lead your company, you’ll need to find creative ways and innovative solutions to gain traction and establish an audience. It’s all about thinking differently. Take a look at what the founders of Warby Parker did. This eyeglasses company didn’t go about business as usual. The founders innovated by going around traditional retail outlets and selling their glasses online. They even offered a try-on program, allowing customers to order five pairs of glasses so they could choose one they liked. Customers could then send back the rest. The innovative model in this case drove tremendous success, with Warby Parker earning more than 540 million dollars in revenue in 2021. Critical thinking in this way can lead to similar success for business owners.
Why It’s Important to Be a Critical Thinker
Critical thinking is hard to do, which is why so few choose to do it. Our society right now has gotten to a place where complexity, nuance, and understanding are often ignored—all for the sake of holding true to a particular ideology, even if that ideology isn’t based on truth. When this happens, it becomes easy to remain comfortable and not question our beliefs, opinions, and biases.
To think critically, you need to get outside of your comfort zone and think for yourself. Too many people allow others to think for them, believing that someone else will solve the world’s problems. Unfortunately, that line of thinking leads to little innovation and a world that stops changing for the better.
Critical thinking is hard work, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from it.
We need critical thinkers. When people think critically, societies flourish. Take a look at the Renaissance and the incredible inventions and art that came from that period. Or see how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stemmed from the minds of critical thinkers like the Founding Fathers. These thinkers saw the problems they faced and used critical thinking skills to overcome them.
To be successful at critical thinking, you also need to know how to be persuasive so you can share your ideas with others in a compelling way. Check out the article “8 Rhetorical Strategies to Persuade Your Audience” to learn more. You can also read “Want to Start a Revolution? Avoid Social Conformity.”