IT Managers Need To Understand Just Exactly What Critical Thinking Is
By Jim Anderson
As an IT manager, you’d really like use your IT manager skills to have the best possible team working for you. Where things can get a bit tricky is when we try to define just exactly what we mean by “the best possible team”. If you take a look at a modern IT job posting, there is a very good chance that you are going to run across the phrase “must have good critical thinking skills”. That sounds great, but what are we really looking for when we say that?
Just Exactly What Is “Critical Thinking”?
“Critical Thinking” is one of those phrases that we all think that we know what it means, but in reality it turns out that we all have a slightly different view of it. Just talk to any IT manager and you’ll discover that based on our IT manager training we all define it differently. One of the best definitions that captures what I think that critical thinking is states that it “… occurs when you form an opinion based on information that you’ve collected from a number of different sources.”
What we are really looking for when we say that we want team members who have good critical thinking skills are people who are good at solving problems. We are looking for people who once they’ve collected the information that is available, can “connect the dots”. If we’re not clear about what kind of thinking we’re looking for, we run the risk of confusing our teams. They won’t know if they are supposed to follow the rules or break them.
One of the challenges that we all have is that we struggle to define just exactly what critical thinking is. However, we believe that we know it when we see it. What we want to see is team members who are able to transform book knowledge into problem solving that they can use in the workplace.
How Can IT Managers Tell if Someone Is a Good Critical Thinker?
Determining if someone who wants to join our team is a good critical thinker can be a real challenge for an IT manager. One way to start to make this determination is to ask them questions such as “… tell me about a time that you worked with a difficult person and how you handled that.”
So just exactly what kind of skills are we looking for? What I believe that we all want are team members who have the ability to work with data. To accumulate the data, analyze it, and then synthesize it. Their goal must be to be able to make both smart decisions and assessments that are balanced.
As IT managers we need to be careful when we go looking for critical thinkers. Yes, we do want some of these to be on our team. However, critical thinkers tend to be the ones who challenge the status quo. What we are really looking for are workers who have good problem solving skills. A balance between these two groups will give us the best IT team possible.
What Does all of This Mean for You?
In order to build the best IT team possible, we’ve got to get the people who can solve problems on our team. One way that we can measure someone’s ability to solve problems is by determining if they have critical thinking skills. However, just exactly what we mean by that is often an open question.
Critical thinking has a lot to do with having the ability to make the right decisions. We expect someone who has critical thinking abilities to take in information from a number of different sources and then form their own opinion. When we are trying to determine if someone has good critical thinking skills, we can often ask them how they went about solving problems that they faced in the past.
There is no doubt that critical thinking is a key skill that every IT manager wants each member of his or her team to have as we work on our IT team building. The challenge that we all face is trying to define just exactly what we mean when we say critical thinking. Taking the time to find out how someone goes about solving problems can reveal to us how much critical thinking they are capable of doing.
Jim Anderson has been a product manger at small start-ups as well as at some of the world’s largest IT shops. Dr. Anderson realizes that for a product to be successful, it takes an entire company working together. You can learn more about Dr. Anderson on his website, http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.