Vail Centre column: Need for critical thinking in your organization | VailDaily.com

Vail Centre column: Need for critical thinking in your organization

Ross Iverson
Special to the Daily |

In the world of academia, critical thinking skills are considered crucial to learning and development. In the workplace, little emphasis is placed on how critical thinking skills can aid in solving problems and working through organizational issues.

At the most basic level, critical thinking involves teaching employees how to think for themselves. However, critical thinking encompasses so much more than this. Critical thinking is about fostering an environment in which your team is actively thinking about solutions and viewing complicated situations critically in an analytical and objective manner.

Critical thinking isn’t a new phenomenon, but it is becoming a more popular concept in the workplace. According to the Wall Street Journal, mentions of “critical thinking” in job posts have at least doubled since 2009. Employers now want to hire entry-level workers and college graduates with adept critical thinking skills, but some feel that colleges and universities aren’t teaching students to solve problems and connect the dots on complex issues often enough.

On the flip side, many managers struggle to define how critical thinking applies to their company or organization:

• How would an employee with strong critical-thinking skills address specific issues tied to the business?

• Which questions should hiring managers ask to assess a candidate’s critical-thinking abilities when applying for a position with the company?

• What are some indicators, outside of displaying general problem-solving skills, that illustrate how well a new employee can apply critical-thinking skills in his or her work environment?

Critical thinking has many definitions, but it’s important for those in leadership and management roles to take a step back and consider how exactly they want their employees to take an analytical and pragmatic approach to problem solving.

One of the main reasons businesses don’t adopt critical thinking as an essential component of their organization is that they’re simply too busy. Many companies are so focused on day-to-day operations, profit growth and getting things done that they fail to see how critical thinking could help them develop more effective and efficient ways of working.

Business experts who’ve studied critical-thinking patterns have discovered that critical thinking helps employees do the following:

• Research and gather all of the necessary information before analyzing a situation.

• Brainstorm multiple solutions and answers to a single problem.

• Seek out feedback from several departments and managers prior to deciding on a course of action.

By applying some of these critical-thinking practices to their own business, companies may likely find that these methods are not only more effective but also save time in the long run.

While the need for and benefits of critical thinking are clear, there’s another aspect to these skills that companies often don’t address. Some senior- and executive-level professionals feel the next generation of business leaders lack the ability to implement strategic thinking, another component of critical-thinking skills. These emerging leaders might have trouble visualizing the future of the company and understanding how different aspects of the business work together to create a unified whole.

Such as critical thinking, encouraging employees to become more strategic in how they handle workplace and organizational issues sounds great in theory but can be hard to implement in concrete ways.

Ross Iverson is the CEO of the Vail Centre and can be reached at ross@vailcentre.org. The Vail Centre’s mission is to elevate careers, organizations and communities through education. Learn more at http://www.vailcentre.org.