4Dear Executive,

What’s your view about Critical Thinking?

Would it be correct to say that internal criticism of your company would only be acceptable if it were initiated by management? It’s difficult to imagine a situation where an employee would proactively aim a critical opinion at their employer.

I’m not thinking about ‘whistle blowing’ here. That’s when something that’s wrong is being covered up and needs to be exposed.

Critical Thinking asks how we can do things better. It challenges current thinking because markets are continuously changing and we need to be constantly looking ahead. CT encourages input to the planning process from a range of perspectives inside the organisation and beyond the management team.

I can only think of two occasions when I have heard managers talk about how their business could be better. A CEO at a British company in Singapore told me that, ‘Finding anyone who can discuss the pro’s and con’s of the solutions my team create has, so far, been unsuccessful’. But this is about Communication not Critical Thinking.

The other occasion was during a training programme in Tokyo. A senior manager of a Swiss multinational there said, ‘I can find people with the technical expertise to work for us but I haven’t been able to find anyone who can tell me how we could work better’. This sounds more like Critical Thinking.

Both of these managers genuinely wanted their people to engage with their them and their end users to discuss current practices most importantly, how they could be even better. When your people are thinking like that about your organisation, it’s management’s task to engage with it.

What was missing from these scenarios was the embedding of the CT process as an accepted, continuous practice. Someone, it was expected, would appear magically and conjure up a spirit of enquiry. However, this spirit can have extra value when it comes from talent already present within the organisation because they understand the processes and given the encouragement, see opportunities to be even better.

It’s the challenge to current thinking, the enquiring mindset which someone with a stake in the organisation should be tasked to facilitate and champion. As team leaders, managers are role models. How they encourage and engage with the critical analysis influences how their team members will handle issues going forward.

Skills needed to be a Champion for Critical Thinking include…

  • an awareness of your personal blind spots and comfort zones
  • the ability to evaluate facts and data objectively
  • good proactive engagement with your internal specialists and beyond
  • capable of asking questions and encouraging ideas in a collaborative way
  • recognition of the CT process as an integral component of the management function

Think you would enjoy it? You are already qualified.