Monthly Archives: July 2014

Critical Thinking

A Pragmatic Approach to Critical Thinking in 5 Easy Steps
The Benefits of Evidence Based Decision Making

Early in my career I was told that I wouldn’t be promoted to the next position because I had not demonstrated an ability to critically think. I had no real idea what “critically thinking” meant; however, being underestimated is a great motivator for me so I began exhaustive research on the subject. After outlining the concept into clear steps, I then had the opportunity to apply what I had learned to a decision the company was trying to make regarding whether to outsource a process or continue to do it internally. The results that came back were impressive and when I walked my supervisor through my findings she was pleasantly stunned. I was promoted shortly thereafter and have used this valuable skill ever since to make solid business decisions.

So what is critical thinking anyway? Critical thinking, in a practical application, is applying a method to help solve a problem or answer a question by eliminating bias, uninformed, partial or even prejudiced thinking. It’s human nature to bring past experiences and current motivations to the decision making process so how do you apply an unbiased and clear thought process to a business scenario?

The five easy steps below can help guide you through the critical thinking process:

A place to think – This seems simple but trying to find a place where you can focus and think is easier said than done! You need a dedicated space to lay out your thoughts so they can be revisited without loss of data. Personally, I find that using my office walls to lay out the process allows me to see a visual flow. I’ve tried a white board and that worked well too but I often run out of space. If you prefer a more technical method, there are many project programs available, but additional training, practice and investment are often required. The important thing is you use the tools that work best for you.

Clarify the question – This is an area where you want to spend most of your effort. When developing the primary question, there should be no doubt what it is you are trying to discover. For example, asking “What can our company do to make accounting more efficient?” is far too broad and unclear. A better question might be “By outsourcing our utility bill payment, will we reduce accounting expenses without sacrificing accuracy”? A sample guide is provided at the end of the article.

Additional questions will inevitably happen. It’s important to park those questions into a separate space and determine their relevance to the original question later. If these questions pass the relevance test, you can place them under functions or processes when appropriate to be answered as you progress through the process. If a question is not going to help answer the central problem, put it in the parking lot to be addressed at the right time.

Outline all the functions – Dig deep. Outline all of the functions of the process currently being used to accomplish the task, the costs associated, departments impacted and any resulting issues or inefficiencies related to the current process. If you’re not the subject matter expert, call in your team mates who are and ask for their feedback. Don’t go beyond this step. Remember that you are only gathering information gathering. Stay away from forming assumptions and only document functions and costs. Take your time because you don’t want to leave off a part of the current process. Start with your top most categories, then move to sub-categories of each process, function and cost.

  1. Processing a utility bill: Start by mapping the entire process by step, time, number of people, hourly rate, overhead expenses per person, postage, IT support, etc.
  2. Calculate the inefficiency costs that can be proven, i.e., late fees on bills. Don’t include any perceived inefficiencies that can’t be proven.

Scrub the information– Review all data collected and challenge any piece that isn’t supported by data you can prove or confirm. Look for opposing points of view. The best you can do to prove a point is to hear the other side and attempt to refute those points with facts. You may learn you’ve missed something vital to the main purpose of your research. This is the stage to discover and address those issues.

Document your conclusions– Use precision, detail and evidence. Ask yourself “If I were to believe the empirical evidence only, what does it say”? Clearly outline the positive and negative aspects of what your findings are. Take a last look for any assumptions not based in fact and discard them. When you have eliminated extraneous information, all this is left should be unfailingly apparent. You should have a highly defendable business case to back up your recommendations and/or decision.

Remember that your goal is evidence-based decision making. People are often resistant to change based on their personal motivations, experiences, and sometimes fear. A great acronym to apply to this process is remember is FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. By following these steps, your critical thinking will take you past assumptions and into an answer founded in evidence.

Kate Forsyth_thumbnailKate Forsyth
Director of Energy Management and North East Sales Representative

410.292.7132  ι

Kate joined the Minol USA team in August of 2009. She currently oversees the Energy Management Program with a special emphasis on utility provider bill payment, cost avoidance and green initiatives.

Prior to joining Minol USA, she was employed by REIT AvalonBay Communities, Inc. for more than 20 years. While with AvalonBay, Kate successfully lobbied for the passing of the submetering law in Massachusetts in 2005.

Critical Thinking Guide

  1. Purpose.
    1. What is the purpose of the project? Is the purpose clearly stated or clearly implied? Is it justifiable?
    2. State your purpose clearly, refine.
    3. Distinguish your purpose from related purposes.
    4. Check periodically to see if you are on target (in the reasoning exercise).
    5. Is the purpose significant and realistic?
  2. Resolve the problem.
    1. State the question or issue clearly and precisely.
    2. Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning and scope.
    3. Break the question into sub-questions.
    4. Distinguish questions that have answers from those that are a matter of opinion and from those that require consideration of multiple viewpoints.
  3. All reasoning is based on assumptions.
    1. Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable. Is
      that true? How do we know that is true?
    2. Consider our assumptions are shaping our point of view.