A personal take on Critical Thinking
So here is a little backstory: I am going to take you back to September 2008, Denmark. For a couple of months, there had been talk of how insanely huge the sub-prime mortgage bubble had become, but the thing was prophecies of economic catastrophes were as much part of the day to day media narrative as they are today. Now imagine the scare we got when things suddenly got real!
In the fall of 2008, I had just started my apprenticeship at a medium-sized transport company. A job I never really wanted: I was schooled in marketing, more exactly, market analysis. I loved reading consumer behavior, predicting indicators and foretelling the next big thing. But with a recession on the horizon, there were not many firms ready to invest resources in somebody just starting out.
All my life, I knew that my languages would be my fallback. I didn’t want it to be the case, as I did not want that to define me as a person. It nevertheless was practical in getting me something to do.
Jobs were not easy to find, apprenticeships were though. Mostly because there were used as full –time employees, with meager benefits.
The financial crash had a near immediate impact on European business. The banks were under attack and reacted by shutting every open chest. Financed expansions were halted in their tracks, guarantees withdrawn. All lenders of money were put on the defensive, holding every penny to themselves and bracing for an existential fight! In two months, nine banks were put out of business. The others were scrambling for their lives, with consolidations and other restructuring measures.
The problem is that the banks had become the financial backbone for the Danish economy, meaning that their struggles suddenly became the struggles of the whole Danish economy.
Transport and logistics were an important pillar of the Danish economy. In the coming months 16% of all jobs in the sector would be lost and half of all companies wiped out! It was a ruthless fight for survival and big companies with deep war chests stood with much better chances than the small to medium sized companies.
The measures taken by my employer were harsh, even radical… nevertheless I am till this day impressed by the decisions the leadership made. We restructured fast, sold activities, in which we could not compete, and focused on activities we did better than everybody else.
My languages saving me again, I got to be a huge part of all the restructuring and thanks to the decisions made by the leadership, we had a taskforce with one goal in mind: saving the company.
The way out
After that came years of hardship, squeezing every penny, making tough decisions, not having ANY rope for mistakes. Critical Thinking was suddenly the only way of thinking. Any minor problem was now escalated and handled as medium sized problem, every medium sized problem, was a major problem. Plus, the danger of a problem running through the gambit was a . So, catching and dealing with an issue as soon as possible was critical. Although I didn’t think of it as structured the way of approaching every issue had a similar feel to it: recognize, analyze, address the core, address the issue, review through lessons learned, prevent repeat through setting up procedural safety mechanism.
My former employer is still active and doing what they do the best: focusing!
How To: Critical Thinking
Before we do a quick run-through, it must be mentioned that the theory has evolved, putting much more emphasis on the information gathering process, more precisely being able to analyze it and better sort out relevant information you need for the next steps of the theory.
The phases are as following:
Addressing the source
Implementing needed workable means to solve the problem
Setting up processes
Critical Thinking is about setting you in a different mindset, when dealing with unexpected problems, figurately slowing the situation down, so you can address it methodically.
I won´t go into too much detail, but so you have a rough idea, I will quickly run through the phases so you can get a “feel” for these.
Recognizing a situation as critical and something that needs addressing is not as easy as it sounds. Most do not know when to put the label “problem” on a situation and no, it is not subjective.
This part is by far the most important, but also the most difficult! Not because analyzing a problem difficult but doing it within a limited timeframe (most problems do not allow you much brainstorming leeway)!
This is not what you understand by the word conclusion, absolutely nothing is at an end here. This is where you conclude your analyzing phase and, on that basis, determine which actions are to be taken.
ADRESSING THE SOURCE
It makes little sense to fixing particular issue without addressing the source. No sense of wiping the milk of the floor without prior picking up the carton and setting it straight! This action is very counterintuitive, as most people instinctively try to solve the problem first!
IMPLEMENTING SOLUTIONS AND DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM
You now can address the problem and counter it with measures you have developed during the analyses and conclusion phase.
Here is a cliché saying you have heard a thousand times “Fool me once, shame on me – Fool me twice: hey what is wrong with you, how are you not taking care of this!” Ok a bit modified to prove a point. The point being, if you are not taking the time to learn about how issues occur, you are not playing this game correctly.
SETTING UP PROCESSES
One thing is being able to handle situations as these occur, the other thing is setting up processes, that make sure they never occur again. The 80/20 rule applies here: most problems you can avert by setting up systems to guard against them.
Take the time to check up on these processes and make sure that they still apply.
Want to know more?
For those who have been thought some Critical Thinking theory, they maybe don’t recognize this exactly (on the other hand some maybe do…). The theory has been interpreted differently through the years, but the foundations of the steps remains.
What I love about Critical Thinking is, that its use isn’t limited to the office life. It’s a mindset you automatically use privately as well and I am 100% sure, that it has saved my relationship more than once.
I love the subject of Critical Thinking so much that during my managing days, I made it obligatory for myself to pass the knowledge about the theory to my team-members, and I know that they have benefited from the method.
I still have the need for preaching Critical Thinking, so now I will do it differently. We at have made it our calling to provide you with the opportunity to learn the things we have learned through quality workshops. In late Summer 2019 I will be moderating a workshop on Critical Thinking. Location and language haven’t been decided yet, let us know what you prefer! Be on the lookout, we will be announcing it very soon on our website, our LinkedIn account and of course on Instagram.