“I know that I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”
                                                          – Socrates

Critical thinking is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something you can learn once and then use in that same format going forward like the multiplication tables.  Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.  It’s a way of thinking clearly and rationally while understanding the logical connection between ideas.  In the intelligence arena, information plus analysis equals intelligence, which is then used to anticipate an opponent’s operational intent.  It’s a model that works in the business world as well.

Trident Response Group (TRG) recently became a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) Training Academy.  This allows TRG to provide continuing education to Texas Peace Officers to enhance and improve their vocational skill sets.  We are very honored to share our experiences with the men and women who put their lives on the line every time they go to work.  They are the true day-to-day heroes.

Most police officers, as they move through their career, endeavor to move into investigations because it feeds an intellectual curiosity or that desire to solve a mystery.  A key skill in successful investigations is the ability to assess the information and analyze the evidence found at a crime scene.  To put the pieces of crime puzzle together requires a unique way of thinking and a mental process called Critical Thinking.

While working for an investment firm in New York City shortly after retiring from the CIA, I found myself falling back on my critical thinking skill sets as it related to our business intelligence assessments.  I found that the brilliant team I was fortunate enough to lead were very gifted in the business models of SWOT, SVOR, and VRIO when it came to assessments.   My team was a passive recipient of information at face value, but not active learners that rigorously questioned ideas and assumptions.  They were not seeking to determine whether the ideas, arguments, and findings represented the entire picture.  I had to teach my team to use their proven assessment skills, but to also to identify, analyze and solve problems systematically rather than by historical reference, simple intuition or a gut feeling.

Just as a police detective looks at a crime scene or an intelligence officer targets a terrorist group, business professionals can use the critical thinking process to:

1. Understand the links between ideas.

2. Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.

3. Recognize, build and appraise arguments.

4. Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.

5. Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.

6. Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs, and values.

Critical thinking is about assessing things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in whatever circumstances one finds oneself. The skills needed to think critically are observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem-solving, and decision making.  We need to be able to:

1. Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.

2. Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.

3. Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.

4. Recognize any weaknesses or negative points that there are in evidence or the argument.

5. Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.

6. Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

To understand the critical thinking process, let’s try a simple exercise to get you thinking from a critical thinking point of view.  Think of something that someone has recently told you that can affect your business or your position within an organization (church, club, team).  Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Who said it? Is it someone, you know? Is it someone in a position of authority? Does it matter who told you this?

2. What did they say? Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?

3. Where did they say it? Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond or provide an alternative account?

4. When did they say it? Was it before, during or after an important event? Is the timing important?

5. Why did they say it? Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

6. How did they say it? Were they happy, sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it?  Did you understand what was said?

7. What is your goal? One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve and then decide based on a range of possibilities.

Once you have clarified the aim, use that as the starting point in all future situations requiring thought and further decision making.  You must maintain discipline to keep yourself on track until changing circumstances require you to revisit your decision-making process.

A word of warning about the proverbial pitfalls that we often encounter and tend to get in the way of our decision making. We all have our own histories, value systems, personal preferences, learned behaviors, and prejudices.  Knowing this and being aware of our biases, our strengths and weaknesses will ensure that our critical thinking process is productive.

Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight.  Not every decision we make or implement will be a disaster if we find justification to abandon them.  Our decision making will always be better and far more successful if, when we reach a tentative conclusion, we pause to consider the impact on the people and activities around us.

For instance, let’s look at Toyota moving its North American HQ’s to Plano, Texas.  The move was designed to bring together approximately 4,000 employees from sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and finance.  At first, look, moving these departments and consolidating to a centralized location would seem to improve the overall operations of the company.  But it did lead to the loss of several valued executives, managers and other skilled workers, some of who would be difficult to replace.  Which of these issues is the most important consideration? Is there some way of lessening the conflict?

Toyota began an operational restructuring after the company branding was soiled with the 2009-2010 massive recall involving sudden acceleration of its top line products.  This changed the way the automaker operated globally.  After the crisis, Toyota decided to overhaul its management structure to give regional management teams around the globe more decision-making authority.  It also saw an opportunity to decrease the financial pain the recall caused.

The new campus in Plano is bringing employees from Torrance, Calif, Los Angeles, California, New York City, New York and Erlanger, Kentucky.  Each of these states has a state income tax.  New York and California are far more expensive to live in than the Plano and Frisco areas.  Both were already growing with suburban construction of homes and business centers.  Most significantly, the majority of Toyota employees moving to Plano would retain their current salary.  This meant they were getting a raise with no state tax to pay allowing them to purchase larger homes with a pool.

Toyota would not have to concern itself with raises and promotions for the foreseeable future, and the financial mess caused by the massive recall would not stall operations.  By bringing together the sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and finance elements, the automaker was able to quickly restructure its corporate management while giving its regional management teams decision-making authority they needed to fix the problems in their area of responsibility.

These are the sort of issues that can arise from incomplete critical thinking (we can’t lose those valued employees) and an excellent demonstration of the importance of good critical thinking (we can realign almost everything we need to and in turn save money while we work to regain our investor’s confidence).

Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. In order to achieve this, it must involve gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources possible.  It requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences which can impact decisions that need to be made.

We invite you down to TRG to sit down with our team of special operators and learn how these critical thinking skills can be applied to business and life.


“It Is Wiser To Find Out Than To Suppose.”

                                                                           – Mark Twain