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Main Content

Strengthening Your Critical Thinking Ability

Strengthening Your Critical Thinking Ability

Strong critical thinkers are good at:

  • defining a problem and determining the information needed to solve it

  • forming theories about why something might be happening, and then testing those theories

  • spotting the assumptions underlying a point of view (for example, that increasing market share is more important than profitability)

  • judging the validity of conclusions

What does critical thinking look like in action? Here's an example: In your new role as manager in a consumer-products company, you're given a broad assignment to answer the question: "Should we expand our presence in Latin America?"

The assignment requires you to really dig into the question. You play with redefining it ("What makes us think of Latin America in considering where to expand our business?"). You also try breaking it into several questions ("What are the potential rewards of expanding into Latin America? The possible risks? If things go wrong, do we have the ability to absorb the losses? Are there cultural differences that might make our products less attractive there?").

Next you gather the data and evidence you need to answer these questions. Based on your assessment of the information you've pulled together, you finally come to a conclusion: Expand into Latin America, but mitigate the risks by making small investments initially and only go into selected countries.

As you might imagine, critical thinking is a crucial business skill, especially as the pace of change has accelerated and any strategic decision can make or break a company.

How can you strengthen this ability? You have a number of options:

  • Read a book on critical thinking. Potential useful titles include Critical Thinking: An Introduction by Alec Fisher (which contains valuable ideas and exercises) and Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc Cosentino. (Though this book is geared toward management consulting interviews, it's also an excellent "workout" for your critical thinking skills. Read it after you've finished Fisher's book.)

  • Take an online learning course on the subject, such as those offered through Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as particularly good at critical thinking. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop or course on this subject. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Practice critical thinking in your daily life. For example, the next time you read a newspaper article about a current event or a controversial issue, don't just accept the author's analysis or conclusions at face value. Instead, think about what assumption might be informing his or her conclusions. Ask yourself, "What facts is the author drawing on, and what facts is he leaving out?" "What motives might be influencing his presentation of the information?" "Does this person's argument seem well reasoned?"

  • Read about important historical events that involve human decisions, and try to understand the critical thinking behind the decision (whether the decision itself was right or wrong).

  • Read the Op-Ed (opinions and editorials) section of a good newspaper. As you consider a writer's argument, ask yourself whether the person is asking the right questions. Consider the assumptions he or she is making. See whether the evidence provided in the piece supports the conclusions the author has drawn.

Critical thinking is a skill, like any other. Some people find it relatively easy to master; others struggle with the concept. If critical thinking isn't your strongest suit, don't get discouraged. Mastering this ability is a matter of discipline, not a measure of intelligence. With learning and practice, you can strengthen your skill in this area. The above suggestions can help.