We’ve heard about the importance of critical thinking skills in school, but it’s not always a common topic in the business world. The truth is, graduation day doesn’t mean critical thinking gets filed away in your past with standardized testing, homework, and essays. Critical thinking in business is an important skill for success.
This level of thinking goes much deeper than our normal thought process. It relies on a broad wealth of information, including the accumulation of new evidence in addition to our own reservoir of knowledge, experiences, memories, reflections, and reasonings.
Critical thinking in business helps us constantly evaluate and reevaluate the way we work so we can seek out more efficient and profitable solutions. A 2020 survey found that critical thinking and analysis is the #1 most important skill group that will be in high demand by 2025.
Critical thinking is a deliberate and systematic approach for processing information to make educated, well-informed decisions.
We don’t need to be critical thinkers 100% of the time. But when it comes to important decisions, especially in business, critical thinking skills are necessary.
We can improve our critical thinking skills by questioning assumptions, seeking out alternative viewpoints, being aware of our biases, reversing our problem-solving approach, and evaluating evidence.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the process of intentionally and systematically processing information to develop a well-informed understanding and make educated decisions.
It’s the opposite of snap judgments and regular day-to-day decisions. Most of our thinking happens automatically based on a gut feeling and limited amount of information available to us at a given moment.
Critical thinking requires a more in-depth approach that relies on facts, evidence, experience, and observations instead of emotions, assumptions, and biases.
5 ways to improve your critical thinking in business
Nobody relies on critical thinking 100% of the time. It takes considerable time and effort—you don’t need to spend that much energy when deciding what to make for dinner or which shirt to wear. That constant energy expenditure would leave us drained.
Instead, critical thinking is a tool that you should reserve for specific circumstances. There’s a time and a place for both critical thinking and automatic decision-making.
For example, you can be on autopilot when it comes to mundane tasks like filing paperwork, but for important decisions that have an impact on your bottom line—investments, employees, and the future of your business—you can’t afford to simply “go with your gut.”
Here are five ways you can improve your critical thinking in business.
1. Question basic assumptions
Assumptions are a natural part of our thinking process, but they’re detrimental to critical thinking.
Critical thinking in business requires objectivity, which means removing emotions and baseless assumptions from the equation.
When a company’s response to a new idea is to say, “But we’ve always done it this way,” they’re not thinking critically. Learn to recognize such assumptions and be critical of them.
2. Examine alternate points of view
It’s perfectly natural to want to seek out information that aligns with our own opinions and desires. We want to be right.
But part of critical thinking involves researching opposing views to understand the full picture from every angle. Talk to those who oppose you, and make sure you’re actively listening when they present their case. Seek out peer-reviewed research.
Even if you still don’t agree with the alternative points of view, they may illuminate new solutions or challenges to consider when making a decision.
3. Be aware of your biases and mental processes
The human brain is an incredible machine, but it’s certainly not perfect. In addition to natural biases, like prejudices and stereotypes, our brains are sometimes subject to heuristics. These mental shortcuts can be used to circumvent a long, detailed thought process.
Shortcuts might be sufficient for immediate decisions with short-term goals, but not for critical thinking. The best way to manage them is to be aware of your biases and mental processes. Simple awareness isn’t enough—you will also need to understand how they influence your decision-making process. From there, you can make a conscious effort to adapt and overcome.
Some of the most common biases to overcome are:
Confirmation Bias: Acknowledge that you won’t always be right.
Action Bias: Don’t act on impulse. Take a moment to think through the consequences first.
Association Bias: Did an action cause a desired outcome to occur, or did that outcome happen regardless of the action?
4. Reverse your approach
If you’re still feeling stuck when applying your critical thinking skills to a problem, try looking from a different perspective by reversing your approach.
For example, maybe you’re mulling over what investments to make in your business, and you can’t decide if they’ll help you reach a particular goal. Try turning your thought process around. Focus on the end goal instead, and then work backwards. What needs to happen in order to reach that goal?
Reversing your approach can illuminate any flaws in your thought process and help you reach a logical solution.
5. Evaluate existing evidence
Evidence is a key factor in critical thinking. Our decision-making process should involve seeking out information and evidence to fill gaps in our knowledge.
This doesn’t mean you have to conduct your own studies. Researchers with access to more resources have already laid that groundwork for you.
But to accurately incorporate this evidence into your critical-thinking process, the burden falls on you to know the answers to these questions:
Where did this evidence come from? Is the source credible?
How was the information gathered?
What were the parameters and sample size?
How does this evidence fit into the problem I’m trying to solve?
In today’s digital world, you can find skewed data to support any point of view, even the most illogical conspiracy theories.
This is why critical thinking must go beyond simply finding evidence. It requires mindful evaluation of the facts and a commitment to seek out relevant, credible information, even if it disproves your point and changes your perspective.
Critical thinking skills result in better business decisions
Developing a critical thinking mindset helps you focus on progress instead of perfection. Nobody’s perfect. And being a critical thinker doesn’t mean you’ll make the right decision every time.
But it does mean that you are making educated, rational decisions that have a much higher chance of success.
Are you a critical thinker? Do you want to improve your critical thinking skills? Join our team and grow professionally!