Clearing the Noise: Thinking Critically About Solving Problems

The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Last week, we launched Fedcap’s 2018 year-long Leadership Academy. The Academy is taught by leaders from throughout our family of agencies, board members and thought leaders in the business and academic environments, and participation is highly competitive. It is a challenging curriculum, and it is a big commitment of time and brain power on the part of the faculty and participants.

Our first module is the undergirding module for the entire year’s study—critical thinking. Critical thinking, has many definitions, but according to Linda Elder, the brains behind the Center for Critical Thinking, it is the basis for disciplined rationality, reason, and empathy at the highest level. Being able to flex our critical thinking muscle is the foundation for solving society’s biggest problems. Critical thinking is a discipline unto itself. It is a pledge to ever improving our thought processes.

I approach thinking critically first by doing what I call “clearing the noise.” At any given time, we have so much information coming at us as we strive to solve problems that it is hard to cull through it all to make a rational decision. The influence of culture, politics, emotion, public opinion, vested interest, and unfounded logic can all lead to landing on decisions that do not reflect the highest level of thought. So how do we sort through the noise to get to the heart of the matter—whatever that matter may be?

Asking questions is the heart of critical thinking.
Here are a few of the questions I find useful as I strive to clear the noise:

  • What is the issue I am seeking to address?
  • Why am I striving to solve this particular issue?
  • What are the environmental, social stressors that make it important to address this issue?
  • Am I sure I am trying to solve the right problem? (Many people have spent millions of dollars on solving a problem, only to realize that they solved the wrong problem).
  • What assumptions do I have as I begin to work on thinking through the issue?
  • What metrics or data exist that can inform the discussion?

How do you clear the noise? What questions do you ask yourself? How do you strive every day to improve your thinking? And…in the absence of critical thinking, how can we possibly solve the biggest issues of our day?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Clearing the Noise: Thinking Critically About Solving Problems