It’s Critical – Traits of Successful Thinkers

Too often in the workplace, we are driven by the need for speed and the amount of work that needs to be done.
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Too often in the workplace, we are driven by the need for speed and the amount of work that needs to be done. Our decisions are based upon how quickly we can accomplish our tasks, finalize our deliverables, and meet the timing of our projects.

When our primary motivators are speed and volume, we run the risk of slipping into a purely mechanical way of conducting our business. Creative and critical thinking go out the window when we zero in on only tasks and transactions, instead of taking the time to look at our job function as it fits within the overall structure of our business group, business processes, and the strategic goals of the company.

Easier said than done, I know. Most people that fall into a task-based work flow are usually driven to it by the corporate culture that encourages and rewards those who crank out a lot of work product and meet set deadlines.

Efficient workers who deliver on time will always be desirable, as they should be. But what are companies losing when their sole focus is speed and volume?

In a recent article from INC.com, it points out the types of critical thinking that will be required to break the chains of transactional workflow:

“Ironically, the more experience you have, the harder it will to break from conventional mindsets. Leading companies often get stuck in old business models. Kodak engineers develop an early version of the digital camera, while the rest of the company remained focused on chemical film processing. Microsoft executives doubted the value of online search as a revenue model. Barnes and Noble seemed convinced that people will always want a physical book in their hand.

The essence of critical thinking is to slow down this process, learn how to reframe problems, see beyond the familiar, and focus on what is unique in any important decision situation. Here are four ways to hone these critical thinking skills:

1. Slow down. Insist on multiple problem definitions before moving towards a choice. This need not be to be a time consuming process – just ask yourself or the group “how else might we define this problem – what’s the core issue here?” This should become a standard part of every project scoping conversation you have, especially when the issue is new or complex.

2. Break from the pack. Actively work to buck conventional wisdom when facing new challenges or slowly deteriorating situations. Don’t settle for incremental thinking. Design ways to test deep held assumptions about your market. Of course, different is not always better so seek to understand the wisdom inherent in conventional wisdom as well as its blind spots.

3. Encourage disagreement. Debate can foster insight, provided the conflict is among ideas and not among people.  Increasingly we live in a world where people can choose to interact only with those who agree with them, through Facebook friends, favorite news sources, or our social cliques. To escape from these cocoons and echo chambers, approach alternative views with an open mind. Don’t become a prisoner of your own myopic mental model.

4. Engage with mavericks. Find credible mavericks, those lonely voices in the wilderness who many dismiss, and then engage with them. It is not enough to simply be comfortable with disagreement when it happens to occur.  Critical thinkers seek out those who truly see the world differently and try hard to understand why. Often you will still disagree with these contrarions, but at times they will reframe your own thinking for the better.

I wonder how many companies would be willing to forego their current, short-term “deliver now” mentality in exchange for a cultural shift toward creative and critical thinking?

Sounds like a risky and rewarding proposition to me.

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