How to Hone Your Critical Thinking Skills to Spur Innovation

Critical thinking involves going beyond cursory reasoning as sufficient proof that something is as it seems. It is one of the most important skills anyone can have, whatever their profession and whatever their position in the corporate hierarchy.

Woman looking at a wall with a painting of a maze on it.

A Deloitte study of Technology, Media, and Telecom (TMT) companies found that the number one skill high innovators say they’re working on is critical thinking skills – and these are companies that work on the leading edges of technology. Furthermore, the less innovative companies ranked critical thinking skills as less important. 

A strong innovation strategy depends on solid critical thinking skills. Critical thinking encompasses self-direction, self-discipline, self-correction, communication, and problem-solving – all of which are necessary ingredients in a successful innovation strategy. 

Developing your own (and your innovation team’s) critical thinking skills isn’t hard, but it requires commitment and practice. Here’s how to do it. 

Don’t Take New Information at Face Value

We all have a tendency to do things because that’s how we’ve always done them, or to accept things as “truth” because they sound reasonable. However, innovation often depends on not taking things at face value. Maybe the way we’ve always done something actually is the best way, but how can we know unless we take it apart and evaluate it?

We also have to learn to avoid assuming that we’re right. When we already think we’re right, we’re derailed from thinking critically. This doesn’t mean we have to assume we’re wrong all the time, but that we open our minds to other viewpoints.

Do Research and Ask Questions

With the internet, we have an entire world of information at our fingertips 24/7. Naturally, the quality of that information varies, but finding out which information sources are vetted and of high quality helps. Continue to search out new sources of quality information so you’re not limited to only a few perspectives. 

Learn how to recognize paid search results and search results that may have made it to the front page without necessarily being high quality. Rest assured, if you’re wondering, “What would happen if we tried X?” there’s an excellent chance that someone, somewhere has tried it, or has tried something similar. Learn from others’ mistakes and successes. 

Man sitting at a table reading a document and typing on a laptop computer.

Break Things Down and Solve One Problem at a Time

An innovation strategy may be in the ultimate pursuit of a comprehensive solution to a complex problem, but that doesn’t mean that arriving at the solution will happen all at once. You and your innovation team need to have the ability to see the big picture and to see the individual components of the big picture. Most problems can be broken down into smaller parts that are easier to tackle. 

Solving a series of smaller sub-problems may not be as exciting as having a “Eureka!” moment, but it gets the job done. Having different innovation team members tackle different sub-problems helps your team avoid tunnel vision and explore more options. 

Anyone can improve their critical thinking skills by using the techniques listed above, and perhaps more importantly, by practicing critical thinking. Consistently emphasizing critical thinking, and helping your team with critical thinking exercises and helpful prompts make it easier for your team to integrate those skills into their everyday work. 

Practice critical thinking skills yourself and encourage others on your team to develop and practice their critical thinking skills, and you will inevitably strengthen your innovation strategy. Another source of ideas for helping your team develop as innovators is our Creative Rewards to Incentivize Engagement download.

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