March  2011     Edition 69
Reverse Critical Thinking

The Critical Thinking process to solve a problem starts

by using a variety of methods to be clear on what that problem really is, before jumping to conclusions.  (See numerous prior HeadScratcher Posts for some of these methods).

Sometimes however, an idea just pops into your head,

or someone else's.  Someone says, "I have a good idea", and a discussion often follows about the merits, pros and cons about that idea.   When this occurs, the Critical Thinking process is often abandoned.

Try using Critical Thinking in Reverse.

Instead of just jumping into a critique session about the idea, don't judge the idea at all.  Start a conversation regarding the thinking that went into that idea in the first place.  A good place to start is to ask the question "What assumptions are being used?", and then "Why were those assumptions used, how can they be validated, or if they should be?", "what other assumptions might exist, and if those new assumptions were true or the original not true, would the proposed idea still follow?".

Two ideas are better than one.

  Sometimes two ideas or more are quickly offered.   Don't let the conversation start by comparing them, or ignoring one or more of them.  Start a Reverse Critical Thinking conversation as if they all were good ideas ... and review the Thinking that went into how those ideas came about.

If, after reviewing the Thinking

that went into how these ideas came about, you have a winner .. everybody wins.  However, if after the ideas are reviewed, and everyone realizes that the ideas are not quite the solution, then start a forward Critical Thinking session by reviewing the original problem or goal and get everyone clear on what that really is. 

The Takeaway:
Critical Thinking is a great process and most of the time, getting everyone to really understand the issues first will save a lot of time and eliminate dead end discussions.  But don't be too rigid about this order. Sometimes a good idea comes about quickly and you'll want to take advantage of that time savings.   However, don't throw Critical Thinking out ... just Reverse the Process to ensure your quick idea is a great idea.

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