High Performance Critical Thinking

High Performance Critical Thinking 150 150 Sharon Smith

Critical thinking is often characterized as a scientific, analytical way of thinking. It helps us form more knowledgeable opinions and make better decisions. As a business leader critical thinking is not only necessary, but when you become a high performance critical thinker it will differentiate you from others. This is impetrative today in the business world we live in with much more complicated technologies, customer demands, and drive to go to market quickly.

High performance is defined as better, faster, or more efficient than others and we all know about high performance sports cars that are in a class of their own. High performance also applies to leaders and like the car is carefully crafted to be elite, so can you.

I have no doubt that you already have strong critical thinking skills, but you can learn how to improve and develop your mind and become a much higher performing leader.

Here are three steps to high performance critical thinking:

1. Ask the right questions

If you are going to be high performance in the critical thinking department you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. This begins with how you clarify the problem and what questions you ask. You cannot make assumptions or have ambiguous information, which may seem obvious, but how many times did you think you had a clear picture only to find out later you were missing critical pieces of information? Pieces that could have easily been uncovered if better questions had been asked or different people had been questioned.

You won’t be able to reasonably analyze a situation and locate a solution if you’re not completely clear on what you’re trying to accomplish!

The best way to get a clear understanding fast is to ask questions, but not just any question, the right questions. You want to ask open-ended questions. These cannot be answered with a yes or no. You want to start all open-ended questions with who, what, how, why, where, or when. Close-ended questions that allow the respondent to say yes or no are the wrong questions if you want to be a high performing critical thinker.

For example instead of simply asking will this change have an impact to the project, ask the team what impact will this change have on the project? Who will be impacted, how long will the impact take to overcome, what is the benefit of the impact, etc.?

Don’t ask can we implement this idea; ask how can we implement this idea? Rather than asking can we do this, ask how can we do it?

You will also need to make sure you have asked everyone the questions and not assume that someone in a different department does not have valuable insight. Just because the problem is in one area of your business or on one team or in one project, it does not mean that understanding the problem lies only within that area.

Talking to the business users who will use the solution might best solve an IT problem, but you will never know if don’t ask. Maybe the impact is not that big and assumptions are being made. What if the solution that IT is working on will have an even bigger production impact to the users? Are you asking everyone that might have insight or ideas; and how confident are you that the right questions are being asked?

Many corporate challenges are systemic and uncovering that is going to lead to even better solutions. When a project breaks down it may be a symptom of a much larger issue than just the specific project. What if the policies in place throughout the organization are no longer adequate?

Lastly on the topic of asking questions: Make sure those you ask are open to answer freely without any repercussion and that they know that it is safe to tell the truth. Without this it really doesn’t matter how good the questions are that you ask.

2. Identify possible solutions

If you want better solutions, high performance solutions, you need a different way to come up with them once you have clarified the problem.

Start with a core group of people who are familiar with the problem. These are most likely the people who helped you identify the problem in the first place. This means that they could be people from different departments and different areas of your organization if you followed the guidance in step 1 above.

One of the biggest mistake leaders make is assuming that the executive team is best suited at coming up with the best solutions. Or even worse thinking that they must be the one to come up with the answer and work in a vacuum. You do not have to have the answer and knowing this is a key factor in being a high performance leader. The answer is in the room, but it may not always come from you. High performance leaders understand this.

Make sure it is crystal clear that there are no bad ideas, nothing is off topic, and no one will be reprimanded for anything said. And then mean it! If you cannot say this and mean it there is a much deeper issue you must face and that is an issue of ego. Great leaders check their ego at the door and that is something to start practicing if it’s a new idea for you.

Remove emotional attachment to the outcome. This means remove the emotional attachment to wanting to be the one who comes up with the solution and remove attachment to what you think the outcome should be. Go into this stage of the process with an open, clear, and present mind.

You’ve got the right people in the room now it’s time to restate the problem clearly so everyone knows what they are working towards. Allow everyone to ask their own clarifying questions and then start brainstorming. It may be beneficial to bring in a facilitator who is not close to the challenge to help with the brainstorming and discussion process.

Take some time with a pen and paper to define all possibilities. Brainstorm without thought as to how the solution can be implemented. Be creative, be open, and just write; don’t delete or omit anything yet. Bring other people into the brainstorm if there is a team of people who will help implement the solution or benefit from it.

To improve and develop your high performance critical thinking skills, you must be open to new ideas, so try and incorporate as many solutions and ideas as you can into your list. It does not matter initially how they could be implemented or how realistic they are. Everything that is said must be included in the list.

3. Analyze the Solutions

You have your problem clearly defined and now a list of solutions, so it’s time to start analyzing and gathering more detailed information in order to support or refute each one. This is where you will start to weed out the solutions on the list that just don’t seem the most viable and get down to the top 3 – 5 that have strong merit.

Gather as much information as possible to support all the solutions you’re considering, as well as information you need to refute them. Include the benefits and challenges of each suggested solution.

Ask each team member to work on different solutions to gather this information and bring it back. Considering your solutions from all angles will keep you from making a haphazard decision, and don’t assume you know anything without the information that can support it.

Once you have the information that supports your 3-5 top solutions start talking as a group. Ask lots of questions, open-ended questions, and start asking how. This is where the rubber will need to meet the road. The solution will need to be realistic in both tec
hnology and cost, specific enough to implement, and you must have or be able and willing to get the resources needed.

Final Thoughts

By following these steps to high performance critical thinking your organization can become faster, better, and more efficient at not only solving problems but identifying them earlier, saving time, money, and energy.

Thinking critically in this way can help you with many aspects in your life. Keep practicing these skills on a regular basis and soon you’ll enjoy the benefits of high performance critical thinking.