Stopping and considering decisions before you make them is only the start to critical thinking and building on those skills makes all the difference.
The importance of critical thinking
Let’s look at the importance of critical thinking. So many times when people ask us, “Can you go solve this problem,” we rush off and start solving it without stopping to think before we do.
We’re facing new demands that require extensive amounts of information before we can make a decision. There are multiple departments involved in all of your problem-solving efforts, and each department is contributing its own input. As part of your problem-solving process, there are going to be multiple stakeholders involved. This increases the complexity of trying to get to an answer.
When you do ultimately come up with a recommendation, those big decisions will involve numerous trade-offs. Not everyone is going to be happy with what you recommend. There are going to be long lag times in acquiring the required data to make your decision, and when you finally do make the call, there’s going to be high scrutiny over whether you were right or wrong. And a bad call can have both business as well as personal and professional implications. Add to this unforeseen bottlenecks in getting the process done of getting to that answer, multiply it by the number of problems you’re trying to solve every single day, and then divide by the limited amount of time you have to get to an answer.
The importance of stopping and thinking critically before you rush off and undertake all these very comprehensive efforts is very high. That critical thinking process is what’s going to differentiate you and the solutions you develop versus rushing off without any thought at all.
Distinguish causes vs. consequences
As you begin your critical thinking efforts, I’d like you to think about causes and consequences. One of the biggest challenges we’re going to face with any problem solving is that desire to rush off and get to an answer quickly because we feel like we’re being responsive to our stakeholders when we do. But think about it.
Have you ever solved a symptom only to find out there are other symptoms that arise after you solve it? Have you ever put in place a recommendation only to find out you created new problems down the road? When you’re going through this critical thinking process, first, consider causes.
Look at the symptom that is problematic. Then figure out the real reason it’s happening. And come at that possible symptom from multiple perspectives. Once you generate a recommendation, stop and think critically. What new problems can you create if you implement this recommendation? What are the new symptoms that will be caused? Think that through before you implement your recommendation.
Let me offer an example. I know a client situation where the organization was going to roll out a brand-new website that would be facing their customers. The problem was they continued to miss deadlines for rolling the website out and going live. Now let’s look at causes and consequences. What was the cause of the website not rolling out? Well, the code wasn’t ready. Yeah, but that’s a symptom. That’s a symptom of a problem. Why wasn’t the code ready? Well, the specifications weren’t done. Okay. Well, that’s also a symptom. Why weren’t the specs done? Well, because they didn’t agree on the features and functionality of the new website. But let’s not stop there. Why was that symptom happening? Well, they weren’t given clarity by leadership around one aspect that was a major strategic decision in terms of how they would roll the website out. That was the cause of all these issues and why the rollout wasn’t happening.
Now let’s think this through. Once that strategic decision is made, what are the consequences of it? So leadership finally decided to make the website a closed network. Therefore, new customers would have to call in to register instead of registering on a website. Let’s look at the consequences of that decision and the new problems that can emerge. New customers are now going to have to call a call center associate. That’s then going to flood the call center with incremental calls. The consequence of that is the staff in the call center is going to be over-worked. And then the consequence of that is current customers are going to experience service issues. They won’t get their calls answered as quickly. And then the consequence of that is we might lose current customers.
By stopping and thinking about causes first and then consequences, once you do make a recommendation, you’re going to identify the true problem that you need to solve and, hopefully, you’ll be able to avoid causing future problems. When you go out to solve a problem, think backwards about the causes and think forward about the consequences.
As you go to apply these notions to your critical thinking processes, I’d like you to think about a problem you’re working on. Look at the causes. Spend some time thinking about what’s really causing this issue. Continue to work backward until it’s clear you’re solving a problem and not a symptom. Then, once you’ve generated a recommendation, think through the consequences. What are the new problems that could emerge if you implement your recommendation? Think about a problem that you made a recommendation on where it didn’t go so well. Which of these two did you miss? Did you miss the real root cause? Did you miss possible consequences of your recommendation?
By spending this extra time thinking about these aspects and putting in the critical thought, there’s a much higher likelihood that whatever recommendation you come up with is going to solve the true problem and you’re going to account for some of the possible consequences down the road.
Want to learn more about critical thinking? How about taking an entire course on it? Go directly to the course and start learning about critical thinking. The entire course is available at LinkedIn Learning. Enjoy!
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