And just like that it’s July, 2017 and the 3rd Quarter is now underway.
In the USA, this week of July 4th is much like the first week in January where many business professionals take some time after a major holiday to reflect back and look ahead. For business leaders focused on learning from the challenges of the first half of the year so they are able to produce the results needed for the second half, they will be thinking about the business skills needed to close the business gaps and the skills needed when hiring and onboarding new talent. But what are the gaps and how do they close them?
Based on my experiences over the past 25+ years working in the corporate training and develop market we have to look no further than a landmark survey by The Economist just a couple of years ago. The reason I like this survey so much is that it takes an unbiased perspective of the US market from experts outside of the US market. Chocked full of valuable data and insights, there is one question which I think is appropriate to visit this week and that is:
“At your company, what workplace skills are considered most important for employees to have when they join?”
The #1 answer with 72% of respondents selecting it was Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.
During this week of reflection and looking forward to the rest of the year, I offer 10 basic rules that drive and support critical business thinking and problem solving that are appropriate for all levels of the business from new hires to executive leaders of businesses.
What is Critical Business Thinking in the first place?
Before I provide the 10 basic rules of critical business thinking and problem solving, let me offer a definition of what I think it is.
Critical business thinking is the use of information gathered in a journey to execute a business strategy to arrive at the best conclusion and decision for the business.
Based on this definition, I present my list of the 10 Basic Rules of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Everything on this list is considered a must and if you are serious about building skills around critical thinking and problem solving in yourself and in your organization, they should be non-negotiable.
- 1) Seek, absorb, and know all of the critical sources of information in your ecosystem
We live in an age if infinite information. Everyone in a business environment should scan their business ecosystem through the information gathering from reliable and relevant sources of information. This includes general news, business news, industry news, and digital sources such as groups, and experts.
- 2) Aggressive preparation
“Winging it” is simply not acceptable. Critical thinking and problem solving starts with aggressive preparation which means thinking about thinking and making sure possibilities are covered and all sources of information have been used appropriately to prepare for a day, week, month, year, and all activities.
- 3) Plan your day and make realistic to-do lists
Aggressive preparation is the foundation for executing plans through proactive planning and to-do lists that are realistic. By proactively planning and being in control of information and situations, the focus can be on the tasks at hand which should be the things necessary to execute the business strategy.
- 4) Don’t just be on time, be early
Showing up just when the day is starting or when meetings are starting isn’t proactive and doesn’t support critical thinking and problem solving; it probably makes things worse. Being 15 minutes early allows for the ability to see things that others don’t see (or hear) and that information can be used as part of the journey.
- 5) Be present, listen, and learn
First of all, put the smartphone AWAY! Put it in your pocket. Unless you are in a critical position like sales or customer service where the execution of your strategy relies on your immediate reaction, put it AWAY. Be present and focus. Nobody can think critically if half their attention is on a leaderboard on buzzfeed. It’s ridiculous. After you put your phone away, then listen and learn. Each experience, each new piece of knowledge builds the ability to think more critically and solve problems of the business.
- 6) Share insights (but don’t blather)
People think critically and solve problems are able to clearly share their insights without talking too much, over-selling, or blathering on about non-sense. By clearly sharing insights, you are then able to listen to reactions and fine-tune your approaches.
- 7) Acknowledge when you don’t know something
Even the best critical thinkers don’t know everything; but they do have a process for figuring things out. Acknowledge when you don’t know something and proactively seek the right information through the right resources.
- 8) Be respectful in the process
Nobody likes a smartass-know-it-all. The best critical thinkers are respectful and build resources though humility and gratitude. They build a portfolio of knowledge and accumulate approaches and methods of problem solving that rely on other people. The best critical thinkers understand a little sugar goes a lot further than a lot of vinegar.
- 9) Don’t cut corners
One of the most important aspects of good, strong critical thinking and problem solving is doing it right and not cutting any corners. Cutting corners will inevitably give you the wrong solution and a poor business result.
- 10) Take pride in your work
And finally, the most important rule; take immense pride and ownership in your work. By seeking to be the best at what you do and seeking to be the best for your company, you will easily find the right paths along the journey. Pride is the most important ingredient in critical thinking and problem solving because it implicitly drives you to figure things out in ways that you didn’t think were previously possible.