< Back to articles

The Business of Critical Thinking

Supporting Leaders

Part of the entrepreneurial trap is the feeling that you are constantly operating at 100% of your mental capacity. It’s hard to find the time, or the bandwidth, to think and explore new ideas or opportunities.

While over-committing and over-scheduling is part of the problem for leaders, we are also faced with the 24-hour news cycle and sound-bite leadership.

We have created a cultural expectation that each day brings latest news and with it fresh decisions and actions. So not only do we have vast arrays of information coming at us at a rapid pace, as leaders we are also expected to act and make informed decisions swiftly.

The current COVID-19 environment has shown the need for clear leadership, quality decisions and considered action. It’s also highlighted the high price for getting it wrong.

The tension between informed decision making and rapid response is tricky to navigate.

How are business owners and managers supposed to filter out all the chatter to focus on what’s meaningful for them?

Critical Thinking as a Leadership Discipline

Critical thinking has many definitions but the one that resonates with me is:

Careful thinking directed to a goal

Critical thinking enables business leaders to sift through the conflicting opinions and economic indicators to stay informed, evaluate this information against their goals and make quality decisions.

Personally, I have always found that my best ideas come after a long walk when I have created the mental space needed for critical thinking. But I never stop there – I have learned over time that critical thinking doesn’t happen in the silo of my own head. I need to “road test” ideas, explore options and gain valuable feedback before making a decision.

While critical thinking must be applied as an individual, leaders need to invest and nurture frameworks that allow critical thinking to be shared by the collective.

Create Thinking Systems

If you do a bit of research into critical thinking you will find that there are advocates of a process led approach – “observe, imagine, infer, experiment, analyse, decide”. This is an example of systems thinking. Systems thinking is designed with a process intent. It provides a valuable, often repeatable, flow for HOW things work within an organisation.

Taking a process led approach to critical thinking can actually defeat the purpose – we stop thinking and move straight into doing.

I want you to consider how you can create “thinking systems” for your organisation. Thinking systems are principles – led. You identify the key principles that will underpin your thinking system and put them into practice.

An Advisory Board is one example of a thinking system.

The principles that underpin the ABF101 Advisory Board Best Practice Framework include clarity of scope, independence, fit for purpose, structure and discipline and measurement.

These principles apply to Advisory Boards but can also be adapted to thinking systems appropriate to your organisation such as Governance Boards, Committees, Executive Meetings, project teams, etc.

Thinking systems can support critical thinking but as a leader you still need to deal with the feeling of standing in front of a firehose flow of information.

How can you effectively filter and distil down the key information that you need to think about critically?

Know Your Business

You absolutely must have clarity on your business and strategic objectives. When you have a rock solid understanding of YOUR business, you can carefully evaluate information through the lens of your business strategy, your internal capabilities and future goals. Is this likely to have an immediate effect on my business, a longer-term effect or no impact? When you know your business you can turn down the volume on noisy outlier information.

Know Your Markets

When you truly know your market and your customers, it becomes a lot easier to ignore doomsday commentary. You are also less likely to be blindsided by market disruptors, new competitors or advances in technology. Get close to your customers, be curious and never get complacent.

Know Who You Can Trust

Thought leaders, influencers, commentators, media, advertisers……who can you trust? Information saturation is real, and it can actually stifle critical thinking and problem solving within businesses. Seek out the trusted information sources and advisors that have the current skills and knowledge in the areas that are key priorities for your business.

Invest in Critical Thinking

In business, there is no return without investment. Support yourself as a leader by investing in critical thinking. Invest your time, invest your effort and where necessary invest your funds into areas that are going to support you and your organisation to not just survive but to thrive.

About Author:

Louise Broekman
Louise is an award winning Entrepreneur, researcher and business advisor. Louise has received recognition from Industry and Government at a local and national level for her contribution to the Australian business sector. She is an in-demand speaker and is regularly called upon as the leading voice for Advisory Boards in the Asia Pacific region.