MBA – Skills for Leadership – Critical Thinking

MBA – Skills for Leadership – Critical Thinking

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My reflection on critical thinking and its application.

Key Concepts Learned about Critical Thinking

The key concept I have learned about critical thinking is to rethink situations using different frames. I have learned that all of us have these pre set views and values that determines how we see a situation. After reflection I realize our frames are most likely due to our upbringings, cultural views, characteristics and social values.

I have also learned some techniques to help analyze situations using different frames. One of the techniques I learned is the questions technique. Part of the questions technique is the 5 Why technique. I learned that you can use this technique to either come to a converging answer to a question, or blow open the possibilities of answers to a question. By asking why over and over again, you are forcing your mind to question your assumptions and reframe your thoughts. There are also appreciative inquiry questions, difference questions and data questions. Each type of question forces the user to focus their mind on something that they would not normally focus on.

Second technique I have learned is the systems thinking technique. In systems thinking you think of the problem at the problem’s level, and then you think of the problem at 2 levels higher and 2 levels lower. By forcing ourselves to consider the problem at a broader level, and at a more specific level we can identify issues we would not have thought about at the present level. This technique reminds me of an interesting quote from Einstein. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The third technique is paradox. The technique of paradox forces us to find a solution to a problem where contradictions can both be right and wrong at the same time. This is such a simple yet powerful concept if it can be applied. We are trained to think that there are always tradeoffs, if we can change our frame to think in paradox, we might come up with a lot of interesting innovative solutions. This concept breeds out of box thinking.

The fourth technique is multiple perspectives. This is perhaps one of the most widely taught techniques. Multiple perspective thinking is looking at an event or situations from more than one perspective. There are 2 different types of multiple perspectives, one is just looking at an event or situation from different perspectives, and another one called stakeholder views is looking at an event or situations through groups who have a specific interest or stake in the issue.

The fifth technique is stretch benchmarking. Stretch benchmarking is benchmarking against models of best practice and superior accomplishment. This technique pushes the user to move beyond complacency to achieve something greater.

Strength and Weakness of Critical Thinking:

The strength of critical thinking is its ability to provide a user with new insights about a situation, its ability to generate alternatives, and its ability to inspire innovation. For example by using the systems method a user can get a much broader and specific level insights. By using the multiple perspective method a user can generate many alternatives, and by using the paradox method a user can come up with many innovative solutions to a problem.

The weakness of critical thinking is that it can create analysis paralysis. A situation can be thought of in so many different frames each with different underlying values and ethical dimensions that we might not be able to focus and come to a decision. Unless we have set criteria to analyze frames we might lose focus and forget the question or issue that we are trying to solve.

Critical Thinking in Requirements Gathering:

A business situation where I could have applied critical thinking is in the collection of customer requirement gathering. In my first job after graduation I was responsible for a complex membership registration web form for a credit bureau. The VP of software talked to me over the phone, telling me what he would like to see on the form. I typed up the requirements and sent it to the VP, obtained his approval and started working on the system. Three weeks down the road I had completed the design, implementation and testing of the system. I was proud of myself since I had completed the system ahead of time, had done extensive testing, and the response time of the system was outstanding. I sent out the preview to the VP of software, CEO, the marketing department, and the processing department. I was not prepared for the avalanche of emails I received back with suggestions for new features, questions about the existing features and complaints about usability. My gut reaction was to shoot down the emails indicating that I followed the VP’s request, but after calming down I realized I was at fault as well. I did not take into considerations the stakeholders involved or their requirements. As a computer engineering graduate I did know that I had to do a use case analysis for a software system. However I did not do my due diligence. I took the software VP’s requirements at face value. I did not question the assumptions, and as a result, I ended up doing this project all over again, with everyone’s requirements and sign off. After that I learnt to consider all the stakeholder’s requirements. However until I learnt that this is a technique of critical thinking, I did not realize it as critical thinking tool. Until this course I did not know critical thinking is reframing issues. Now I have learned it, I feel that it is a formidable tool, to be always aware of one’s thinking.

Type of Business Problems/ Situations Critical Thinking is best suited for:

Critical thinking is best suited for situations or problems that are non linear, in the complex domain, where you don’t have all the data you need to make a decision, there is a lot of uncertainty and rapid change. Critical thinking is also useful when a problem or situation call for new insights, alternative generation, and needs to challenge taken for granted assumptions.

In comparison analytical thinking is best suited for complicated problems that are linear, sequential, progressive and predictable.
Reflection and application of critical thinking to my MBA :
On reflection within I have found the techniques I have learnt in critical thinking made a big difference for me than analytical thinking. My back ground is engineering, as a result I can relate easily to analytical thinking. It is more natural for me to use analytical thinking. Critical thinking however was an eye opener for me. I find that I have really strong frames based on my values as well as training. For the past two weeks I have caught myself making snap decisions based on my frames. I find that it is really hard for me to slow down my thinking process and catch my biases or frames.

I truly believe if I can force myself to actively practice the critical thinking techniques it will add a lot more value to my MBA. I can see myself using the multiple perspective technique in my group projects in MBA. I can see myself using paradoxes in order to come up with innovative solutions for different type of assignments and case studies. I can see myself using the system level thinking to generate alternatives. There are so many other applications I can think of just for use within my MBA for critical thinking. The techniques of critical thinking were really a useful and interesting topic.

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