Critical Thinking

Many skill sets are needed as professionals enter the workforce. As I travel around the country to conferences and meet with clients, one concern seems to bubble to the top. The lack of critical thinking skills.  I would challenge the reading audience to consider this has nothing to do with age, but possibly more with personality, lack of knowledge or simply lack of awareness.  When I ask those that are concerned if they have those skills, they often laugh and say “I think so”.  Then, along came a very honest 45 year old professional from a mid-size firm (who asked to remain anonymous) and I quote, “I want to be a critical thinker, but I’m not even sure what that means.”  Hence, this month’s message to this audience.

Critical thinking is described as the disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence.  Wow, that sounds like most of the accounting professionals I know.  However, many of the leaders in firms today have a strong feeling that this ability is fading.  So, if you are reading this and are wondering, how can I ensure that I am truly a critical thinker in my firm, or how can I help my peers or my team members in developing their critical thinking skill ser then read on.  Here are some strategies that will help you and your team:

Strategy #1:  Be a continuous learner.  Learners are individuals with a natural sense of curiosity that want to know what is going on in the world and in their profession.  They read and talk to people.  Basically, they educate themselves without being told they have to.  This can come about by reading publications on line, talking to people who know something they do not, listening to TED talks or attending conferences.  It does not matter how they learn, the act of gathering new knowledge is the important strategy.  The more you know, the more evidence you have to consider when making a decision.

Strategy #2: Make the right decision for the majority.    Boomer Consulting has been a strong advocate of creating a firm with a shared vision and not just shared services In other words, do you work with an all for one and one for all or do you work to be all about you.  Critical thinkers put their egos aside and think about what is best for the overall firm, even if that is not the best solution for the individual.  Their goal is seek to understand and then make a clear and rational decision that is best for the majority.

Strategy #3: Listen and consider unconventional opinions.  Many call this outside the box thinking.  Critical thinkers have a tendency to seek out new solutions to old problems.  They don’t like the phrase “that is the way we have always done it.”  They also see that collaboration with their team, their profession and often their competitors will bring about the best solutions, and they are ok with that!  

Strategy #4:  Avoid analysis paralysis.  While the description above implies looking closely at the details and finding evidence, critical thinkers will avoid the trap of too much information and getting stuck in the decision making process by looking both at the big picture and the details.  They recognize they will never have 100% of the information they might be able to gather, but they also know they can move forward and adjust their decision later if necessary.

Strategy #5:  Analyze thyself.  Critical thinkers develop a skill for communicating to others why they came to the conclusion they came to.  Others can follow their reasoning and can understand their thinking.  They are willing to change their views when they are provided with more information that allows greater understanding.  They often will analyze their decision internally before they share with others on their team.

While these strategies are most often skill sets we are born with; they can also be developed.  This does not happen in a short time period, but it is absolutely necessary if upward mobility and/or leadership are goals that you hope to achieve.  Practicing the 5 strategies described here will improve critical thinking ability as well as promote everyday decision making.


About the author

Sandra Wiley is the COO and Shareholder at Boomer Consulting, Inc.  She is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance. Sandra has a passion for teaching the next generation leader and has developed the P3 Leadership Academy to elevate the top talent in firms throughout the country.  She also assists in building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.  She can be reached at