Five Steps to Better Critical-Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making Skills
by Mary Ellen Guffey
Gone are the days when management expected workers to check their brains at the door and do only as told. As knowledge workers in today's age of information, students will be expected to use their brains in thinking critically. They'll be solving problems and making decisions, either individually or as parts of teams. The decisions reached will then be communicated to management, fellow workers, clients, the government, and the public.
Faced with a problem or a perplexing issue, most of us do a lot of worrying before separating the issues, examining the facts, and reaching a decision. All that worrying can become directed thinking by channeling it into the following procedure. To make the best decisions and to become valuable knowledge workers, your students can follow this simple five-step plan.
1. Identify and clarify the problem. Your first task is recognizing that a problem exists. Some problems are big and unmistakable, such as failure of an air-freight delivery service to get packages to customers on time. Other problems may be continuing annoyances, such as regularly running out of toner for an office copy machine. The first step in reaching a solution is pinpointing the problem area.
2. Gather information. Learn more about the problem situation. Look for possible causes and solutions. This step may mean checking files, calling suppliers, or brainstorming with fellow workers. For example, the air-freight delivery service would investigate the tracking systems of the commercial airlines carrying its packages to determine what went wrong.
3. Evaluate the evidence. Where did the information come from? Does it represent various points of view? What biases could be expected from each source? How accurate is the information gathered? Is it fact or opinion? For example, it is a fact that packages are missing; it is an opinion that they are merely lost and will turn up eventually.
4. Consider alternatives and implications. Draw conclusions from the gathered evidence and pose solutions. Then, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. What are the costs, benefits, and consequences? What are the obstacles, and how can they be handled? Most important, what solution best serves your goals and those of your organization? Here's where your creativity is especially important.
5. Choose and implement the best alternative. Select an alternative and put it into action. Then, follow through on your decision by monitoring the results of implementing your plan. The freight company decided to give its unhappy customers free delivery service to make up for the lost packages and downtime. On the job you would want to continue observing and adjusting the solution to ensure its effectiveness over time.
Source: Mary Ellen Guffey, Business Communication: Process and Product, 2E (Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing, 1996), Chapter 1. Copyright © 1998 by Mary Ellen Guffey
Using Design Method for Problem Solving
Rationale’s interface has been designed to provide a path for critical thinking. From gathering research, to weighing up evidence to formulating a judgement, Rationale will assist you.
Take a look at these 6 critical thinking steps with examples to demonstrate the path to better outcomes.
Step 1: ORGANISE INFORMATION
We have no difficulty in locating information. The key is that the information is selected and structured appropriately. With Rationale’s grouping maps you can drag information from the web onto your workspace via the scratchpad and include colour, hyperlinks and images. The structured, pyramid like maps provide a guide for students to structure the information in such a way that reveals the connections between the main topic and its various themes or categories.
Step 2: STRUCTURE REASONING
Many people provide opinions but rarely provide supporting reasons for their view. Rationale’s reasoning maps encourage people to support their responses and to consider different opinions. It uses colour conventions to display reasoning – green for reasons, red for objections and orange for rebuttals. It also includes indicator or connecting words so that the relationship between statements is clearly understood.
Step 3: CONSIDER EVIDENCE
A test of a solid argument is how good the evidence is that underpins the claims. Rationale’s basis boxes provide a means to identify the basis upon which a statement is given. The icons provide a visual guide as to the range of research utilised and the strength of the evidence that is provided.
Step 4: IDENTIFY ASSUMPTIONS
We often talk about analysing arguments. This can mean a few things including looking at the logical structure of the argument to ensure it is valid or well formed and also identifying assumptions or co premises. For those who require higher levels of analysis, Rationale provides the analysis map format to show the relationships between main premises and co premises.
Step 5: EVALUATE ARGUMENTS
Once arguments for and against an issue have been logically structured, they need to be evaluated. Rationale provides a visual guide for the evaluation of claims and evidence – the stronger the colour, the stronger the argument while icons designate acceptable or rejected claims. While learning this process of evaluating arguments, the colour and icons provide immediate undertanding and communication of the conclusion.
Step 6: COMMUNICATE CONCLUSION
Presenting ideas orally or in writing is crucial and is often the distinguishing feature between good results and average ones. Rationale has essay and letter writing templates to build skills and confidence. Templates provide instruction and generation of prose. When exported, there is a structured essay plan with detailed instructions to assist understanding of clear and systematic prose.