IN BOTH our personal life and career, there are many situations that require us to thinking critically. This includes dealing with a family crisis, a complaint from a customer, deciding whom to promote and what equipment to purchase.

Critical thinking involves a measured process of analysing facts and data and questioning assumptions to come to a rational conclusion.

This gives the impression that critical thinking is more boring than creative thinking, which may employ more flamboyant methods to obtain certain outcomes. This is not so — it just has a different objective. Finding a solution to a problem or weighing the truth of an argument can be just as exciting as thinking up creative ideas.

Fundamentally, critical thinking involves a five-stage process:

1. Identify the key issue that needs to be resolved

During meetings and discussions, there is a tendency for people to get distracted from the key aspects of what they want to resolve.

To be an effective critical thinker, you should first start by identifying the key issue in the problem or situation that you need to address and resolve. It is a good idea to write this down so you can refer to it frequently and ensure that you are not being sidetracked.

2. Gather facts and data

Once you have identified the issue or problem, it is important to gather all the relevant data so you can build a clear and accurate picture of what you are dealing with. Information also yields options for a solution.

3. Clarify assumptions and theories

It is possible that you may not have all the relevant facts and data. This is especially so if you are engaging in a new project and there is no past experience to draw upon.

You will then need to look at assumptions, theories and concepts relevant to the project or problem. This would involve postulating a worst-case and best-case scenario, and thinking through the process that might be put in place if any of these were to happen.

4. Look for evidence to support your course of action

Critical thinking involves you having to make an informed decision, which you have to justify to supporters as well as detractors who may have their own hidden agendas.

What you need is hard evidence to support your decision. In the absence of hard evidence, you must have strong arguments to convince others that your course of action was the best possible one in the circumstances.

5. Check for grey areas

There is no such thing as a perfect decision or a perfect solution to a critical problem. What you may have achieved is an effective solution that solves part of the problem or situation at hand.

It is therefore important to keep in mind for any grey areas — these issues may have more than one possible answer. It may not be possible for you to resolve these issues that lack clarity all at once, but it would be prudent to keep them in mind so you can try to resolve them at a later time or when you have the information or data you need.

Employing the five-stage process will help you to become an effective critical thinker and an asset to your organisation.