Under the auspices of Roy van den Brink Budgen ASM Plus provides a range of services in which the powerful tools of critical thinking (CT) are used. Critical thinking can best be understood as a set of skills and dispositions. These skills and dispositions are increasingly being seen as of huge significance in many contexts including education, business, and indeed in all areas in which the role of decision-making is important. For example, Richard Branson has said that ‘Critical thinking is the key to creative problem-solving in business’, whilst John Baldoni (a leadership development expert) states that ‘If you want to succeed in 21st-century business, you need to become a critical thinker’.
The skills of CT can be used very profitably to understand, interpret, evaluate, and develop reasoning (or, more loosely, ‘positions’) in any context.
- They can clarify reasoning (how claims are used), by focusing on assumptions being made and by considering possible interpretations of evidence.
- They can encourage the thinking of other possibilities (in that CT has a powerfully creative element to it).
- They can look at the production of criteria which can be used to evaluate claims that are made.
- By demonstrating the advantages of dialogue, they can foster the development of sustained purposeful interaction in many contexts.
The importance of the skills of CT is given greater emphasis by the dispositions that make up its other part. These dispositions include the value of seeing both sides of an issue, having respect for alternative viewpoints, being open-minded, and seeing the value of using reason in justifying positions.
It can be seen that using both the skills and dispositions together makes CT a very powerful instrument for decision-making in general and for dispute resolution in particular.
Roy van den Brink-Budgen’s CT expertise is considerable has been working in this area for over 30 years, and has applied it in a wide range of contexts including education, business, offender-behaviour, and the military. He has worked in various countries and has addressed many national and international conferences on the subject.
APPLICATIONS OF CRITICAL THINKING
Decision-making in business
The application of CT in business can be very powerful. The process of moving from an initial question to a decision, using a CT (‘tree’) framework, can be represented in the following way.
Producing a continuum of choice
Selecting from continuum of choice
Generating criteria for evaluation of choices
Applying criteria, by selection and use of relevant evidence
This method, developed by Roy van den Brink-Budgen as a way of operationalising CT in decision-making, combines a very productive combination of clear and coherent reasoning with a strongly creative aspect in the production of a continuum of choice and the generation of criteria.
The method is further informed by using the overall CT criteria of relevance and adequacy, which are powerful criteria in judging the significance of claims and how they are used.
CT can also (literally) profitably be applied to the examination of the various sources of problems that can detract from good decision-making. These include the following:
- alternatives not being clearly defined, described, and considered.
- existing biases not being discounted (uncritically using familiar ways of thinking or acting);
- the range of ‘traps’.
These traps include the following:
- the status-quo;
- selective recall.
Possible solutions to each of these can be very clearly developed by using CT. For example, with the confirming-evidence trap, we should
- stand back from the problem/issue and consider what sort of evidence might (and might not) be relevant;
- think of possible counter-positions (including counter-arguments);
- think of the ways in which we might be biased, and seek to compensate.
Given that good CT involves a dialogue that is sustained, purposeful, and reasonable (as in using reasons), it can be seen that the use of CT can make a significant contribution to decision-making.
We can produce a tailor-made consultancy package that brings CT to any aspect of a company’s or organisation’s decision-making.
Mediation can be understood as the process of assisting disputing parties in resolving conflict. It is a process in which the clarification of issues is used as a central feature of enabling disputing parties to consider resolutions of conflict.
This fits very well with using the skills and dispositions of CT, given the ways in which CT can contribute to the production of clarity in dialogue, the ways in which it can invite those in the mediation to look at assumptions being made in positions, and the ways in which it can focus our thinking on the nature of the relationship between claims and counter-claims.
By being helped by the employment of the questioning approach of CT, those involved in mediation are highly likely to see more clearly how agreement on a useful outcome can be reached.
Whereas mediation normally involves parties in conflict, facilitated meetings do not normally do so. Though the facilitator works with a group to reach an agreed decision, the members of the group do not start with opposing positions. It might be, of course, that during the facilitated meeting, disagreements emerge about aspects of the decision-making (such as disputes over what is relevant, what evidence is significant, what assumptions should be made, and so on), and these will be examined during the meeting.
As with mediation, the skills and dispositions of CT are highly relevant to the successful operation of a facilitated meeting, given what they bring to the meeting:
- initial clarification;
- examining possibilities and positions;
- generating and using criteria relevant to the issue(s);
- making assumptions explicit;
- encouraging focused and sustained dialogue;
- highlighting the relationship between positions and counter-positions;
- narrowing down of considered choices;
- looking for agreement.