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How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Better Business Decisions

April 29, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226484

As an entrepreneur, you make decisions every day that affect the success of your products, the loyalty of your employees, and the overall health of your business. To make the best decisions possible, you need to think critically and quickly to pick out any flaws in your processes that might harm your business.

When you think through a problem, your thought process is naturally colored by biases, such as your point of view and your assumptions about the situation. Each of those biases affects your reasoning. If you let your biases drive your thought process and overlook blind spots in your logic, you’ll unwittingly make decisions filled with holes.

"Critical thinking is a way to intervene in your thought process," says Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking based in Tomales, Calif. "It's a way to routinely and consistently seek problems in your thinking."

Related: How to Sharpen Your Decision-Making Skills

Try these three strategies to help you think through a problem effectively.

1. Identify your purpose.
Every time you face a decision, there is a purpose attached to that choice, or a goal that the decision will help you achieve. For example, if you are expanding into a new market, your purpose might be to choose the one with the greatest growth opportunity.

Once you identify your purpose, it should inform every step of your decision process. First make sure that you're clear about what it is, articulate it for yourself and your team and make use it as a starting point, not an end point. “With critical thinking, it is essential to go beyond the basic skills like gathering information," Elder says.

2. Examine your biases.
When you face a problem, it's common to view it from only your perspective and to overlook how your clients, customers, or co-workers might see it. Considering the situation from only one point of view, however, can lead to products that flop or unnecessary spending. The goal of critical thinking is to bring those biases to light so they don’t obstruct your decisions.

To do that, articulate your own viewpoint. Ask yourself, what do I believe about this situation? What is important to me? Next, look for any assumptions you might be making about others' thoughts or behaviors. "Irrational thought is often unconscious," Elder says. "When we articulate our thoughts, we have a better chance to detect distorted thinking."

3. Consider the implications of your options.
Every choice has consequences, and you can improve your decision-making by anticipating what those might be. To do that, approach the problem from many different viewpoints. Imagine yourself as each of the stakeholders, and consider how they might feel and act in response to each option. 

If you do make a choice that backfires by upsetting clients or hurting sales, take a deeper look at which implications you failed to think through, and why. "Common reasons are that people were intellectually lazy, didn't want to consider a given viewpoint," Elder says. Knowing what you missed and why will help you avoid that issue in the future.

Related: A Secret to Creative Problem Solving