Importance of Critical Thinking to Innovation
The more I hear from innovators (some successful and others not-so successful) on the importance of being able to make snap decisions based on intuition alone during critical stages of the innovation process, the more I’m convinced that perhaps, just the opposite may be true. Maybe, what really matters in determining success of the innovation effort is not so much intuition skills but rather, having a more systematic approach–something that resembles classic critical thinking skills. What I’m talking about here is a systematic approach to critical thinking made popular in the 1960s and 70s by researchers such as Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe (just to name a few). These classic methods that link problem solving and decision making have been all but discarded by innovators today because of being deemed too cumbersome, laborious and certainly not suited to rapid demands of the innovation world of today.
Yet Kepner and Tregoe would today argue that the pitfalls of relying on intuition for problem analysis and decision making are significantly increased during today’s typical fast-paced, high pressure innovative environment. It’s when time is short and the stakes are high, that the innovator desperately needs an efficient method to successfully and consistently solve problems.
According to Kepner and Tregoe,
“The manager has to know, specifically, what the problem is, and then proceed to trace down the cause. Not until he (or she) has verified the cause can the decision be made on what is the best action to correct the problem–for “best” implies getting the job done most efficiently. In the sequence from problem to cause to decision, the work of problem analysis closely resembles the search for clues, a kind of “whodunnit.” The good innovator, like a skilled detective, will spot the relevant information and use it, point by point, to narrow down the search for the real culprit (cause).
Doing this efficiently under pressure is not easy. But it can be done fast, and the more systematic and logical the method, the faster and more efficiently it will work. A systematic way of doing something is always more efficient and less time-consuming than a disorderly approach that may require doing the same thing over several times in order to get it right.”
Here’s the takeaway: Make no mistake, relying on intuition to make the critical decisions necessary for a successful innovation project is a bad strategy. Critical thinking, the most important skillset an innovator needs to possess, is what determines success from failure in today’s fast-paced, high pressure innovation environment.
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group – a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.
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