When there's an issue, think backwards and then forwards. Backwards to get to true root causes so you can solve the issue, and forward to avoid any negative consequences that can reasonably be avoided
- As you begin your critical thinking effortsб I'd like you to think about causes and consequences. One of the biggest challenges we're going to face with any problem solving is that desire to rush off and get to an answer quickly because we feel like we're being responsive to our stakeholders when we do. But think about it. Have you ever solved a symptom only to find out there're other symptons that arise after you solve it? Have you ever put in place a recommendation only to find out you created new problems down the road? When you're going through this critical thinking process, first, consider causes.
Look at the symptom that is problematic. Then figure out the real reason it's happening. And come at that possible symptom from multiple perspectives. Once you generate a recommendation, stop and think critically. What new problems can you create, if you implement this recommendation? What are the new symptoms that will be caused? Think that through before you implement your recommendation. Let me offer an example.
I know the client situation where the organization was going to roll out a brand-new website that would be facing their customers. The problem was they continued to miss deadlines for rolling the website out and going live. Now let's look at causes and consequences. What was the cause of the website not rolling out? Well, the code wasn't ready. Yeah, but that's a symptom. That's a symptom of a problem. Why wasn't the code ready? Well, the specifications weren't done. Okay. Well, that's also a symptom.
Why weren't the specs done? Well, because they didn't agree on the features and functionality of the new website. But let's not stop there. Why was that symptom happening? Well, they weren't given clarity by leadership around one aspect that was a major strategic decision in terms of how they would roll the website out. That was the cause of all these issues and why the rollout wasn't happening. Now let's think through, once that strategic decision is made, what are the consequences of it? So leadership finally decided to make the website a closed network.
Therefore, new customers would have to call in to register, instead of registering on a website. But let's look at the consequences of that decision and the new problems that can emerge. New customers are now going to have to call a call center associate. That's then going to flood the call center with incremental calls. The consequence of that is the staff in the call center is going to be overworked. And then the consequence of that is current customers are going to experience service issues.
They won't get their calls answered as quickly. And then the consequence of that is we might lose current customers. By stopping and thinking about causes first and then consequences, once you do make a recommendation, you're going to identify the true problem that you need to solve and, hopefully, you'll be able to avoid causing future problems. When you go out to solve a problem, think backwards about the causes, think forward about the consequences.
As you go to apply these notions to your critical thinking processes, I'd like you to think about a problem you're working on. Look at the causes. Spend some time thinking about what's really causing this issue. Continue to work backward until it's clear you're solving a problem and not a symptom. Then, once you've generated a recommendation, think through the consequences. What are the new problems that could emerge, if you implement your recommendation? Think about a problem that you made a recommendation on where it didn't go so well.
Which of these two did you miss? Did you miss the real root cause? Did you miss possible consequences of your recommendation? By spending this extra time thinking about these aspects and putting in the critical thought, there's a much higher likelihood that whatever recommendation you come up with is going to solve the true problem and you're going to account for some of the possible consequences down the road.
- Breaking big problems into small ones
- Defining the problem statement
- Asking focusing questions
- Finding root causes
- Using critical thinking tools
- Teaching others to think critically