One of the biggest challenges in business today is deciding what information is needed to make the best business decisions. With the extraordinary amount of information available, it is important to have excellent critical thinking skills to apply to the challenge. There are several characteristics of critical thinking that play an important role in making business decision.
First it is important to understand what the term “critical thinking” actually means. What is the definition? What are the many components, the hallmarks, the characteristics of critical thinking? How do you know it when you see it; how do you know when you have it, or don’t?
Critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. Critical thinkers have the ability to critically view themselves. A rather lofty but informative definition used by The Critical Thinking Community, is “the awakening of the intellect to the study of itself.”
Here are characteristics of critical thinking that apply to business.
- The ability to use reason rather than emotion – this requires evidence, data, facts, a full accounting of the information that surrounds your thinking. When you challenge your own thinking you will find where you are relying on emotions and not facts.
This is absolutely critical in business today. Businesses must use reason, not emotion, to succeed. There are many cases, particularly with entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, where emotions dominate the thinking. People become so excited and take such ownership in their new idea that they lose sight of the facts and data that support the best decisions. Taking a product to market only to find out there is no market, shows flawed thinking. “If you build it they will come” works in movies but not in business.
Successful businesses require critical thinking up and down the organizational structure. The challenge today is that we have too much information. Critical thinking helps to decide what information is relevant and why.
- Always keep an open mind – this means you listen, take in other views and seek alternatives and new ideas. Good judgment comes when you recognize the merit of other views and ideas, and factor them into your own thinking. With open mindedness you need the good judgment to know when you have the information you need. Do not get “analysis paralysis”.
Successful executives have to keep an open mind. To be effective, they have to listen well. Every day people bring executives their views, recommendations, facts, data and opinions. The higher an executive goes in an organization the more information they have to consider to inform their decisions. Having a reputation for open mindedness can impact every stage of a career. People equate open mindedness with fairness. Effective leaders, whether they manage a department, lead a work group, direct a division or run a company, build employee and colleague trust when people know they are being heard and that their views are being considered.
- Take a disciplined approach – with discipline you become detail oriented and are comfortable with a lot of information. In fact, you meticulously seek the most relevant and appropriate details and do not make decisions without them. With discipline comes the ability to see the connections between ideas. Solving problems is approached systematically. Identifying, constructing and evaluating arguments become second nature.
Discipline in business and in careers is highly regarded. Discipline leads to focus. When you hear “she really knows her facts”, “he really thought through this issue”; “people admire her for good decisions”, comments are reflections of critical thinking. When we discipline our minds we get rid of clutter. We leave space for better critical thinking. Yes, you get better at it over time.
There are other, more reflective characteristics of critical thinking that should be applied in business today. Critical thinkers are more self-aware. They know their own biases and recognize built in prejudices and assumptions. They approach what they do with honesty and confidence. These qualities are also reflected in their personal lives.
Today, more than ever, critical thinking is an essential part of successful businesses and successful careers. Using reason rather than emotion does not mean you cannot be passionate about your work. It does mean than when it comes time to make important decisions you put the emotion aside. Open mindedness allows you to see opportunities no matter how these opportunities are presented or by whom. With a disciplined approach comes the acumen to identify the right information for the situation and knowing how to use that information. When these critical thinking characteristics are put together they are a powerful business skill to be admired.