Why, in the era of artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalisation, where machines do the talking and thinking instead of humans, are soft skills like critical thinking and innovation still in such high demand? Is critical analysis still a necessary skill when there are abundance of systems that are able to generate data analysis at a click of a button? Having access to more data is a key enabler, but to have real value – the data must be able to convert into useful information that the executive team can confidently use in their process of strategic decision-making. Organisations, today, already face a rapidly changing business landscape; and adding on to that complexity are the new norms created from the current COVID-19 pandemic. All companies – large or small need to manoeuvre their business strategies and survive in this VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world we now live in; and are constantly trying to make sense of. In order to compete and thrive, a new breed of intra-entrepreneurs needs to be inculcated – from the C-Suite level to the frontline – to become nimble and react well to market changes and possibilities.
Organisations need to train and re-skill their leaders and develop critical thinkers urgently. This is especially crucial to ensure competitiveness in this automatic and technology-driven environment which requires lesser lower-order thinking to get the job done. No longer should staff in a company go about their operations and the tactical details of routine day-to-day activities in an automatic mode. This is the “doing” part of the chain of tasks which tend to reside with the operatives and medium- to lower- level roles in an organisation. Without, the “doing” part of the chain of tasks, KPIs and organisational goals cannot be achieved. However, in today’s world, these roles need to evolve and the rise of this evolution is derived from the rapid changing needs of the economies. Today, leaders need to develop their staff to think-on-their-feet and go beyond the “doing”; enable and empower them to act, investigate and improvise – to stay relevant and agile in these ever-changing competitive and disruptive climate.
Critical thinking is simply defined as “Thinking about the thinking, to make thinking better”. It is an analytical and rationale thought process that allows the individuals that make up an organisation to apply synthesis and logic to evaluate common business problems and challenges – to make informed judgement about issues facing an organisation. Leaders can solve day-to-day business problems systematically and methodically through frameworks and models on real-life challenges.
Critical thinking requires a change in mindset to realise that the usual way of thinking is no long useful in today’s VUCA environment. Employees need to move out from their comfort zone and not just jump into the conclusions of situations; instead adopt a critical thinking hat to expect change as the norm, initiate and evaluate ideas that will metamorphosize the way things are done in the organisation. A critical thinker will realise that when companies do more of the same things and activities, they will only end up with the same or similar results. Only when they try to revolutionise something radical, they will get different results.
The ability to be curious, in touch with the ground and being humble to adapt to changes despite personal preferences and habits are also traits of a critical thinker. To be an active listener and see the big picture of the situation or event requires training and focus. How a critical thinker sees a situation and the assumptions that one holds of the individual one is dealing with, is an interpretation of how one will “write” in emails, WhatsApp, correspondences and reports that would go on to be published to the stakeholders. Lastly, understanding the need to articulate and share the ideas and solutions clearly to the stakeholders is another vital trait of a critical thinker.
Asking question is also a crucial technique involved in critical thinking. Asking the right questions, is a skill that needs to be practiced and honed over time. How many times have we attended meeting sessions face-to-face or online and when the boss or speaker asks whether the audience has any questions, a dead silence chills the room. If a meeting is filled with critical thinkers, then there will be a genuine in-depth discussion and debate coloured with different types of questions that would possibly open up different perspectives, leading to better decisions in the making.
By getting your staff to be critical thinkers, you enjoy the benefit of having them be more influential and persuasive through their articulation and presentation, which will help in getting buy-in on their ideas and solutions to your business problems. They can be better communicators and be better problem-solvers as they evaluate the different options, use models to look at the different perspectives and viewpoints to an issue facing the organisation while with the view of improving implementation. People who have the ability to think logically but behave emotionally show no more promise than those who don’t have the ability to start with. Conversely, logical thinking and the ability to function in the arena of the abstract stand at the core of advanced critical thinking.