Critical thinking is a vast area of academic study, but there are common elements in all thinking where thinking problems hide. Learn how to uncover seven elements of thinking, ask the most valuable question (MVQ), and identify and overcome thinking problems for each.
- Thinking is tricky. Left to its own devices, thinking can be biased, distorted, and uninformed. Mine? Maybe even yours. Your success as a leader and the success of your business depends heavily on the quality of your thinking. Here's the good news. Like most problems, thinking problems are best solved by dissecting, taking thinking apart. Let's do that. According to critical thinking author experts Linda Elder and Richard Paul, there are common elements in all thinking. Now we'll define each of the seven common elements of thinking and ask the corresponding MVQ, most valuable question, to uncover potential thinking problems and provide solutions. Number one, purpose, what you're trying to make happen, the goal. The MVQ is, why are we doing this? Let's say the purpose is to increase market share by 20%. Why? Why again? Thinking problems often stem from unclear, contradictory, or unrealistic purpose or goals. Make purpose clear. Number two, questions, what you're trying to answer or solve. The MVQ, what are the best questions to ask? For example, asking whether a potential customer likes your product is very different than asking what would make them buy it right now. Pause to evaluate the right questions to ask. Number three, assumptions, things that are accepted as true or certain without proof. The MVQ, what can we safely assume? For example, how long can you safely assume that the market for your product will continue to grow? Thinking problems hide where assumptions are buried. Unbury them. Number four, perspective, point of view or frame of reference. The MVQ, are we using insights from the wisest points of view? Existing customers or potential customers? Chief engineer or head of sales? Thinking problems lurk when we ignore the impact of perspective, including our own. Consider where points of view may be too narrow, misguided, or missing. Number five, information, evidence that supports reasoning. The MVQ, how strongly is our reasoning supported by relevant information? Our overwhelming access to information can make thinking problems worse. Are we successful because we exceeded growth projections? What if growth data is less relevant than dwindling cashflow? Determine what information is most relevant. Number six, concepts, or systems of meaning. For example, the concept of business success. The MVQ, are we all agreeing on the meaning of this idea or concept? Concepts are human-made. They may have defects, and the exact meaning isn't always clear from human to human. This lack of clarity causes thinking problems. For example, make sure you all mean the same thing when you talk about business success. Make concepts clear. And number seven, conclusions, interpreting and giving meaning to information. The MVQ, of all the ways to interpret this information, what's the best way? For example, an increase in negative customer reviews may mean that you've shipped a faulty batch of widgets or that a better competitive product has entered the market, or something else. Challenge conclusions. When judging a major proposal, solving a challenging problem, or analyzing a big decision, help your team dissect thinking into each part to uncover and capitalize on opportunities to improve it.
- Comparing critical and strategic thinking
- Minimizing bad judgements
- Recognizing cognitive bias
- Using counterfactual thinking
- Overcoming loss aversion
- Avoiding logical fallacies
- Creating a culture of critical thinking