Episode #13 - The Rabbit Hole of Critical Thinking
In this episode of the MRX Lab podcast from FlexMR, we discuss a valuable but rarely discussed soft skill that plays a vital role in research – critical thinking. While strategic thinking may have taken the spotlight in recent years, the ability to think in a critical manner and minimise cognitive bias is one all insights professionals need to succeed.
Throughout the course of the episode, we examine some of the potential reasons why critical thinking may have been side-lined, what value it holds and some simply ways to develop the skill.
By dictionary definition, critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of information to form a judgement. But what exactly this means is contested. A 1999 attempt to determine what elevates critical thinking above other forms of thought laid out three typical features. First, it is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do. Second, the person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfil standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking. Finally, the thinking fulfils the relevant standards to some threshold level. It is often summed up as goal-directed though may not have any particular outcome.
For the purpose of this discussion, we take the view that critical thinking is an internal rational, skeptical and unbiased analysis of information. And that sounds an awful lot like what researchers do on a daily basis. Not just market researchers either, but those that work across user experience research, customer experience research – and all other areas of the insights industry.
The second half of this podcast examines two key reasons why strategic thinking has been given the spotlight in recent years, with little consideration for critical thinking. We then move on to identify the key data analysis challenges that the practice can help the insights industry overcome. Finally, the episode concludes with an investigation of some of the simple steps that can be taken to cultivate & develop less biased thinking:
- Ask more basic questions. The more complex a line of questioning becomes, the more difficult it becomes to answer. Instead, it should be an aim to break down larger questions into smaller, more manageable chunks.
- Be aware of own mental processes, and question assumptions. This is vital to identifying and minimising the influence of any biases that may affect analysis.
- Look to outside sources. While it may seem counterintuitive to look beyond the information the immediate information, a wide and varied diet of information expands viewpoints and provides awareness of previously unknown factors.
- Deliberately avoid rationalisation. Rationalisation is the process of finding data that only supports a particular belief. Most research projects do not end with simple, neat conclusions. They are nuanced, messy and sometimes contradictory. There’s often enough data to support nearly any conclusion – but it’s vital to follow the information rather than lead it to a specific end point.
- Finally, talk to more people. The more people and viewpoints encountered, the broader knowledge base that can be drawn from when developing conclusions.