Critical thinking is a skill that only few possess. Fortunately, it is not an in-born gift. It is a skill that can be developed over time. Do you want to develop your critical thinking skills? Do you want to develop the skill to think with strategic intent and direction? Then read on as I share with you practical steps to developing your critical or strategic thinking skills.
Now what is critical thinking and strategic thinking?
In its simplest of terms, critical thinking is the concentration of the body and mind on a situation or problem; with the aim of finding a solution. Nothing more, nothing less.
Critical thinking is one of the important business skills every entrepreneur, manager or CEO must possess. The reason is because critical thinking is crucial to strategic planning, decision making, risk analysis and problem solving in business. Without critical thinking, there will be no creativity or innovation. Without strategic thinking; there will be no growth. Now how do you develop your critical thinking skills? Well, I will advice you read on.
11 Exercises to Boost your Critical or Strategic Thinking Skills
1. Believe in yourself
Self belief is the first prerequisite for engaging in critical thinking. How do you solve a problem when you don’t believe in yourself? The answer is that you can’t. To analyze a situation and come up with a possible solution, you must believe in your skills and abilities. You must see yourself as being capable of handling the situation. You must never believe in impossibilities.
2. Learn to concentrate on a single task or problem
The second step to developing your critical thinking skill is to learn how to concentrate on a single task or problem at a time. Those who get things done are those who focus on solving one problem first before moving on to another. That’s why Andrew Carnegie said that the first prerequisite for success is to concentrate your thoughts and your energies on the task at hand.
“And here is the prime condition of success, the great secret. Concentrate your energy, thoughts and capital exclusively upon the business in which you are engaged in. Having begun in one line, resolve to fight it out on that line; to lead in it. Adopt every improvement, have the best machinery and know the most about it.” – Andrew Carnegie
3. Learn to think in solitude
If there is one critical thinking technique that I have personally tested and proven, it’s thinking in solitude. The ability to think in solitude is what seperates the great inventors, problem solvers, analysts and philosophers from the average ones. By thinking in solitude, I have been able to solve intricate business challenges, come up with innovative business ideas and plans. If you can learn to think in solitude with minimal distraction from your surrounding environment, your problem solving skill will get better.
4. Know your strengths and weakness
Before engaging in critical thinking exercises, it’s advisable you know your strengths and weaknesses. What’s the essence of working your brains out in a field where you have no expertise? Or how do you engage in critical thinking when you cannot co-ordinate your thoughts. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you avoid banging your head against the wrong wall.
5. Learn to control your emotions
The fifth step to strengthening your critical thinking skills is to gain stronger control of your emotions. Critical thinking is a thing of the mind and it can’t be harnessed if your mind is clouded by external thoughts. You must learn to keep your mind free when you want to do some strategic thinking. You must never allow prevailing situations to cloud your judgment. Great critical thinkers and problem solvers are those who think on their feet; even in the face of pressure.
6. Learn to think an open mind
No man can claim monopoly of knowledge and every once in a while; solutions to problems come from external sources. Closing your mind to external opinions may make you miss out on such solutions. Keeping an open mind is vital to the critical thinking process. You must never reject anything outside your reality. You must keep your mind open and absorb as much external information as you can regarding the situation at hand; then you can proceed to analyze, filter and process the acquired information.
7. Be a voracious reader
This tip is self explanatory. If you want to develop your critical thinking skills, you must be a voracious reader. You must read beyond your field and know how to relate external situations to yours.
8. Learn from the masters
Another good way to enhance your critical or strategic thinking skills is to understudy the masters of problem solving. How do they handle pressure? What are their critical thinking strategies and techniques? Try to see if you can establish a pattern.
“When stumped for a solution to a particularly difficult problem, look to the past for a solution.” – The Mafia Manager
9. Engage in brainstorming sessions with people smarter than you
The ninth step to improving your critical thinking skill is to engage in brainstorming sessions with people who are smarter than you. This will enable pick their brains.
10. Learn to seek external advice
Just like I said earlier, becoming a good critical thinker requires you keep an open mind. Always seek external advice on situations or facts you don’t understand. But never form a judgment based on the advice given. Remember that your aim is to better understand the situation with the advice gotten; so don’t forget to analyze, filter and process the information before acting on it.
11. Follow your instinct
The last step to developing your critical thinking skills revolves back to step one: “Believe in yourself and follow your instinct.” After dutifully carrying out step one to ten and coming up with a solution, you might be faced with one more problem; which is acting on your solution. This is where self belief comes to play. You have to trust your instinct and do what your guts tell you. Forget about consequences and take action.
“It pays to trust your instinct.” – Donald Trump
While Buffett's brain is constantly working to crank through books, play bridge, and lobby Congress, the man is also deliberate about doing mental weightlifting.
Bill Gates — a close friend of the investor— recounted in a 1996 Fortune column an exercise Buffett liked to do in critical thinking.
It's part of how their friendship started.
"On that first day, [Buffett] introduced me to an intriguing analytic exercise that he does," Gates said. "He'll choose a year — say, 1970 — and examine the 10 highest market-capitalization companies from around then. Then he'll go forward to 1990 and look at how those companies fared. His enthusiasm for the exercise was contagious."
Pretty cool, right? With this exercise, you can practice spotting trends, analyze why some companies sustain success while others slip, and how technology advances and cultural norms shape business.
We did a version of this exercise, comparing the market leaders over a 20-year interval. We looked at 1990 and 2010, using information provided to us by Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Here are the 10 largest market-cap companies of 1990:
1. IBM ($64.53 billion)
2. Exxon ($64.49 billion)
3. GE ($50.34 billion)
4. Philip Morris ($47.89 billion)
5. Royal Dutch Petrol ($42.15 billion)
6. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($35.2 billion)
7. Merck & Co ($34.81 billion)
8. Wal-Mart Stores ($34.26 billion)
9. AT&T ($32.8 billion)
10. Coca-Cola ($31.05 billion)
And the 10 largest market-cap companies of 2010:
1. Exxon Mobil ($368.71 billion)
2. Apple Inc. ($295.89 billion)
3. Microsoft ($238.79 billion)
4. Berkshire Hathaway ($198.03 billion)
5. GE ($194.88 billion)
6. Wal-Mart Stores ($192.1 billion)
7. Google ($189.94 billion)
8. Chevron ($183.64 billion)
9. IBM ($182.32 billion)
10. Procter & Gamble ($180.07 billion)
Summoning our inner Buffett, let's look at the overall shifts. Four companies — IBM, Exxon, GE, and Wal-Mart — stayed on top, while six fell off. Over the same period, several new entrants — Apple, Google, and Microsoft — claimed top spots.
There are a few takeaways.
First, changes in culture can lay waste to a consumer goods empire. Tobacco maker Philip Morris was gigantic back in 1990 when smoking was a popular habit, but legislation has deeply cut into its business. California rolled out the first smoking ban in 1995, starting a state-by-state trend that's curbed Philip Morris' dominance. And having all those Marlboro Men die of smoking-related diseases didn't help much, either.
Second, major corporations can sustain themselves if they stay "agile," as management experts like to say. GE has been so innovative for so long that it's shaped a lot of modern life. Thomas Edison's company kept it up into the new century, coming out with medical breakthroughs like high-definition brain scans and cancer detection devices. And while IBM slipped from its No. 1 rank as the world's most valuable company in 1990, the computing behemoth successfully moved into China and other emerging markets, and hopped onto massive trends in tech like cloud computing, bringing in billions in revenue.
Third, monopolistic companies can stay dominant if their market stays stable. Wal-Mart has presided over American low-cost retail for decades now, and the company shows no signs of slipping. Like billionaire investor Peter Thiel says, the monopoly is the finest form of capitalism.
If you have more observations, tell us in the comments.