Strong critical thinkers are good at:

  • defining a problem and determining the information needed to solve it
  • forming theories about why something might be happening, and then testing those theories
  • spotting the assumptions underlying a point of view (for example, that increasing market share is more important than profitability)
  • judging the validity of conclusions

What does critical thinking look like in action? Here’s an example: In your new role as manager in a consumer-products company, you’re given a broad assignment to answer the question: “Should we expand our presence in Latin America?”

The assignment requires you to really dig into the question. You play with redefining it (“What makes us think of Latin America in considering where to expand our business?”). You also try breaking it into several questions (“What are the potential rewards of expanding into Latin America? The possible risks? If things go wrong, do we have the ability to absorb the losses? Are there cultural differences that might make our products less attractive there?”).

Next you gather the data and evidence you need to answer these questions. Based on your assessment of the information you’ve pulled together, you finally come to a conclusion: Expand into Latin America, but mitigate the risks by making small investments initially and only go into selected countries.

As you might imagine, critical thinking is a crucial business skill, especially as the pace of change has accelerated and any strategic decision can make or break a company.

How can you strengthen this ability? You have a number of options:

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