The Importance Of Critical Thinking
It is out of critical thinking that the best strategic plans come.
By Greg Kitzmiller
The beginning of the new year is the time most people make resolutions and talk about planning. Some are completing professional strategic planning now, while others developed strategic plans according to their fiscal year rather than calendar year. Yet the freshness of a new year is the time to consider how we put together the strategies that carry us forward. Therefore, it is appropriate to address critical thinking as an essential part of the strategic planning process.
How often do we really stop and think? It seems most business people are busy taking action, meeting with people, interacting and making decisions. It is a wonder the best thinking finds its way into our busy lives. Certainly “thinking” is one of the most important actions we take and is at the core of strategic planning. But how do we determine how to think? Doesn’t it make sense that if we pause and consider the way we think we will do a better job of strategic planning?
A review of information written about nutraceuticals in 2002 revealed some amazing things. Several news stories surfaced about soy and postmenopausal osteoporosis, genistein and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as related to bone loss, mushrooms and cancer prevention, flaxseed and cancer, plus regulatory news and more. There is also a lot of scientific information coming forth monthly, in addition to news about what businesses are doing to develop and market products. At each step, the synthesis of information, the consideration of what is important and what is not and the comparison of information to other information requires critical thinking that shapes individual participants, organizations and the industry. So how do we develop our thinking?
Over 30 years ago a professor by the name of William Perry, Jr. suggested a series of steps we go through in developing our thinking. These steps suggest a basic level that we likely assume in our early years and later steps that we should be taking as professionals, whether we are professional strategists or scientists. At the basic step we assume there must be a correct answer to everything. It appears to us at that level that all we must do is “learn” all of the answers. We proceed through many of our school years learning facts. The problem is that by the time we graduate from high school some of the “facts” we learned have since been disproved.
Of course, some of the so-called facts take a long time for society to let go of. As a short but relevant example many communities celebrate Columbus day with some vague connection to Columbus “discovering” America. We know that Columbus landed in the Caribbean, and it is really difficult to say he discovered a land where millions of mankind were already living! Those in the field of the sciences only have to consider what theories were present when they were young and how those theories have been disproved and how new theories have evolved in a relatively short span of time. I can vividly recall when I took beta-carotene tablets believing that those alone would help prevent cancer. So just learning all of the facts will not lead us to make the best decisions since those things we call “facts” become displaced over time.
To understand critical thinking we need to look at a higher level. At the highest level of Perry’s steps is the point where we are willing to make a commitment to some position. But in making that commitment we realize that our position is an ongoing, unfolding, evolving one. At this stage we are willing to stake a position on what is known at the moment but recognize that knowledge will change and we must change with it. We cannot rely exclusively on facts but on the continual reasoning about the state of knowledge at the moment. The state of knowledge is evolving and changing and we must evolve our planning and thinking to follow it. We want to demonstrate in our plan that we have taken the best and most proven information and provided a platform for acting on that information, while allowing us to change with new information.
This, in part, explains the success of Centrum supplements. Its campaign line states they contain everything from “A to zinc.” The supplement nutrients are changed based on evolving science. This understanding of critical thinking also explains the failure of certain brands. Some brands have staked their success on a certain fad ingredient and as new scientific information evolved to show that nutrient alone does not have the effect, then the public became confused, eventually departing from the brand. The management of that brand was not allowing for evolution when they branded and promoted their product.
Nearly 50 years ago another major scholar contributed to our understanding of thinking. Benjamin Bloom presented a hierarchy of our ability to think that starts at the step of ingesting and repeating facts as we learn them, much like Mr. Perry. His model moves up to a level of evaluation, which includes the ability to compare and discriminate between ideas, assess the value of theories and presentations, make choices based on reasoned argument, verify value of evidence and recognize subjectivity. It is at this latter phase where we must be planning because at this stage we are doing critical thinking. This is the stuff from which good plans come.
We cannot rely on simple pieces of information in planning. We must synthesize, compare, contrast, evaluate and make determinations. Based on the work of Mr. Perry and Mr. Bloom, and many since, we rely less on facts and more on scenarios that suggest future options. Authors and speakers like Faith Popcorn or Ken Dychtwald are called futurists because they consider options for the future based on current trends. Do you build options and future scenarios or consider information to be facts? Does your strategic plan project various options or is it static and likely to be out-of-date by the end of the year?
Strategic planning for nutraceuticals must never be a static process and should serve as guidelines that are somewhat flexible. By flexible we don’t mean “blowing with the wind.” Flexible means the consideration of various future options with various action steps dependent on how the future plays out. The ability to anticipate the future rather than react to it is likely the best indication of a person and organization’s success in planning. And it is paramount to spend time thinking about the future and preparingfor it. The nutraceuticals industry is certainly not “static” and strategic plans cannot afford to be either.NW