Critical thinking has been a key pillar of success for me throughout my career. Making the time to think allows for data analysis, clarifying and homing in on our North Star to help ensure that both my teams and I avoid the dreaded hamster wheel of thought — spinning and spinning with no end in sight.
5 Ways to Sharpen Your Critical Thinking Skills
- Set aside an hour of think time each morning to read and absorb news and information pertinent to your job.
- Train yourself to examine data before devising a solution to a problem.
- Take time when making a decision — mull it overnight if necessary.
- Ask questions of yourself, the data and others to avoid jumping to the wrong solution.
- Surround yourself with people who have critical-thinking skills and aren’t afraid to use them.
But spend much time on the internet and you will see that many people seem to have forgotten how to check credible sources, access and understand data and look at the facts. Businesses can’t afford to do this – not if they hope to be successful. Decisions made without critical thinking are decisions made in the dark.
Here are just a few ways critical thinking can make a difference in business and in your career.
Critical Thinking Helps You Dig Into Data
When you start thinking and taking a deep dive into data, you won’t always like what you find. That’s when your critical thinking skills really come in handy.
You may, for example, have found four huge areas that need fixing. In revenue it could be the number of leads, outreach to those leads, the funnel or your product. Think about the one thing that will exponentially change your results and drive that one home.
Critical thinking forces you to dig deep into data. It forces you to stop spinning on the hamster wheel and helps you execute relentlessly.
Of course, you must use that data wisely. If you have a hypothesis and need to examine data to prove or disprove that hypothesis, look at that data objectively. Some people latch onto a hypothesis and then look for data to support it while disregarding data that disputes it. That defeats the purpose. Don’t let yourself become too attached to your idea until you know it is backed up by supportive data.
Critical Thinking Helps You Challenge the Norm
No one likes to hear the phrase “we’ve always done it that way,” yet we often let things slide without challenging them because they are considered the norm.
Let’s say that you know revenue traditionally is slow during the summer months. In the United States, the Fourth of July and family vacations can cause this to happen. In Europe, August is a wash. So it’s easy to fall victim to this norm: “We never do well in the summer.”
We too often fall back on the idea that something has always been done a certain way or happens a certain way and therefore is not changeable.
That “we never do well in the summer” attitude is just one example of how we allow an accepted piece of conventional wisdom within the organization — or within our industry — to keep us from excelling. We too often fall back on the idea that something has always been done a certain way or happens a certain way and therefore is not changeable.
That’s not always true, though. For instance, most of us pump our own gas routinely without giving it any thought. Yet decades ago, this was unheard of. The norm was that customers expected full service at the pump. Surely you couldn’t persuade them to pump their own gas. Someone challenged the norm – probably in the face of numerous naysayers – and a new way of doing things emerged.
What are the norms in your business or industry? Do you need to challenge any of them? Could your business benefit from you calling into question the attitude of “we can’t do this or that because…” and looking for ways you actually can do it?
Critical Thinking Helps You in Any Endeavor
One of the wonderful things about critical thinking is that once you have mastered it, you can apply it to your current career, job and company — or the next one.
That may be one of the main reasons you need critical thinking skills, because not every skill we master is so versatile and adaptable.
Some skills come with limitations on when and how you can use them. Carpentry is a wonderful skill, but your expertise with tools won’t come into play when you are filing your taxes. Nor will your knowledge of tax law help you construct a backyard deck.
Critical thinking has no such limitations. It’s handy in carpentry, tax preparation or any other circumstance you can imagine. Because of that, critical thinking allows you to replicate success, kind of like scaling a business.
The ability to analyze, evaluate and problem-solve is valuable, no matter what you are doing.