Critical thinking is one of those gnarly concepts that is used in academia and by professional bodies to somehow suggest that normal ‘thinking’ in normal life is somehow flawed because it doesn’t create new understanding and by failing to do critical thinking we are unable to form a total new basis from which someone would think and act.
A lack of critical thinking is often associated with our reliance on cognitive bias. This occurs when an individual has a systematic error in their thinking. In an organisational setting this leads to people processing and interpreting information in a particular way. This places huge limitations on decision making and judgements being made. But cognitive bias isn’t all bad. It helps us make sense of the world, and make quick decisions. Our biases also are not about ignorance, since they develop from our experience, knowledge and memories from the past. I have a cognitive bias against putting my hand on a hot plate… seems eminently sensible.
I get it, in normal life, we are all guilty of biased thinking. It’s would also be impossibly disruptive challenging what we think we know ALL the time. We wouldn’t be very productive if we got struck in a critical thinking loop and never actually made a decision about something being the ‘correct answer’.
In business, decisions have to be made. Actions have to be taken. Things have to move forward. A business that cannot do those things is not going to be in business very long. BUT businesses that never question their thinking or leaders who rely too much on the known, or what they THINK they know, is going to miss important signals that something needs to change and will likely end up making critical mistakes and… might not be in business too long.
A case study in navel gazing
Why is getting external perspectives important for critical thinking? Do you remember that Pepsico ad in 2017 that sent the Twitterverse into meltdown for being tone deaf, reductive and making light of a serious issue? Well what you might not remember is that in early 2017, PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman excitedly talked up the decision by the company to form Creators League Studio and shiny new in-house content creation arm. Pepsico’s internal perspective was that they were conveying a global message of unity, peace and understanding, reflected in their own perspective about how they embodied social corporate responsibility. The issue with the internally generated advertisement is that it decontextualized calls for unity and failed to address the role of “oppressors” in creating the conditions for protest.
The condescending moral superiority of making Pepsi the cure for social problems ignored many of the issues that led to protest in the first place. By not having an external perspective, the in-house marketing team failed to vet it for controversy or see the problem with the advert that leading to a public relations disaster.
Utilising an external perspectives
What external perspectives provide, is a foil that bounces us out of our cognitive bias and into a place where critical thinking is supported, helping us make better decisions. At 4iforum we offer a facilitated dialogue between individuals from inside the organisation and individuals who bring an external perspective. Our innovation perspectives programme creates a safe environment where innovative thinking can take place, exposing all participants to different ideas whilst reach a new understanding of the links different ideas. By hearing different arguments and ideas it is possible for participants to find new thinking that may be relevant. Importantly by opening ourselves up to new perspectives we increase our ability to recognise why different ideas exist, moving away from simply solving known issues and instead positioning ourselves to dissolve problems that often trip us up because they are too hard to tackle normally. It is in that space that true innovation lies.