Critical Thinking: When’s the Last Time You Asked SO WHAT?

graphic that says critical thinking: when is the last time you asked so what?

by Tara Powers

Critical thinking involves a whole new process of clarifying a problem, coming to conclusions and making decisions. It moves your brain away from “auto pilot” and makes thinking a “thoughtful process.” 

What makes it so difficult and why so many companies don’t engage in Critical Thinking is that you HAVE TO THINK! Thinking is hard work. It takes time and a lot of effort. Mike Kallet, owner of Headscratchers, recommends that Critical Thinking is only done for 10 minutes to one hour at the most. After attending a workshop where we engaged in Critical Thinking all day, I can totally understand why ~ it’s exhausting!  However, the benefits of thinking critically in business are obvious ~ improved clarity of the problem, more choices, faster conclusions and decision making, less errors, and strategies that actually work.

So where should you apply Critical Thinking and how should you do it? Here are few simple techniques that should get you and your team started on using Critical Thinking to address ANY key business issue that you are currently facing.

  1. Choose a problem that does not have a clear solution or a goal that you don’t know how you will achieve.
  2. Spend most of your time getting CLEAR on the problem/goal. The following process is helpful to gain clarity of what the “real issue” or goal might be.
    • Brainstorm all OBSTACLES to get them out of the way. Set them to the side, open you mind to think of the impossible to see if there are any nuggets of “possible” that can help you solve the problem.
    • Identify what ambiguous WORDS need to be defined. For example, we need to decrease our error rate immediately (decrease and immediately are open to interpretation). Get everyone on the same page on what those words mean.
    • Continue to ask WHY? Why do we care about this problem? Why do we think it needs to be solved? Why is it important? (if you don’t know the answer – you will have to find out!)
    • Ask SO WHAT? What is the relevance of this issue to our business goals? Will solving this problem have an impact that we care about? Will solving this problem get us closer to our goal?
    • Be sure that everyone agrees that a NEED exists to solve this problem. It’s not just something that would be “nice” to do.
    • Paint a PICTURE of what it would look like when the problem is solved. BEWARE – this will most likely turn up other issues to be solved in the process.
    • Decide what AREAS you and your team would need to focus on improving (process, skills, information, etc.) to move to your desired future and then put plans in place to work on them.
  3. Consider the FACTS Vs. ASSUMPTIONS that are being made about the problem.
  4. CHECK IN with yourself on what experiences, beliefs, and assumptions could be influencing your ability to solve the problem.
  5. Bring in a fresh pair of eyes and ears to help you get a different PERSPECTIVE on the problem and possible solutions. Consider working with someone that is not closely involved with the problem.
  6. DEFINE THE CRITERIA must be met in order for everyone to feel comfortable making a decision.
  7. Once a decision is made, be sure there is AGREEMENT as to what “done” means in terms of goals and expectations.

Although Critical Thinking is a process, you can choose to focus on 1 or 2 of the suggestions above to get your team to be more thoughtful decision makers. At the end of the day, you can feel more confident that the decisions that you make are going to be better for your business and help you move in the direction of your goals.

“Rarely do we find men or women who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

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