COVID-19 has disrupted the business world, and the “normal” of a few months ago may never return. In this new landscape, how business leaders process and react to new challenges will be crucial.
Using critical thinking skills to make sound business decisions in a complicated, constantly changing world has never been more important.
Critical thinking in the COVID-19 era will separate effective leaders from the pack.
Before, many of us relied on linear thinking — that is, solving problems in a step-by-step fashion. When life proceeds in an orderly way, we can draw conclusions based on probabilities: this is what happened before; therefore, it will happen again. Or, we use contingency statements: if THIS is true, THAT is true.
COVID-19 changed those premises. Now, there are too many unknowns to rely on lazy thinking. The volatile economy is one example: we don’t know how or when the markets will recover. What will the business community look like post-COVID? Will people continue to work remotely, and which companies will thrive and which will crumble? Will entire industries — like cruising — buckle under the strain? How will communities deal with their struggling populations, vacant real estate, and shuttered businesses?
“Now is the time for non-linear (lateral) thinking, characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than in a straight line. The concept has multiple starting points from which we can apply logic to a problem.”
Advice for developing non-linear critical thinking:
Step out of your comfort zone. Critical thinking requires that we see and interpret information from a different perspective. In our old comfort zones we weren’t necessarily required to make difficult decisions. But navigating COVID requires taking steps to adapt to new circumstances. For companies, it means being nimble, finding opportunities and ways to innovate. It may mean drastically reducing a brick-and-mortar footprint in favor of a digital presence. It may mean dumping obsolete inventory at a discount. Or it may mean layoffs.
Many people have closed minds and don’t adapt well to change. In military training, one is taught to pivot, to escape and adapt, since there is no such thing as a perfect set of circumstances. The species that is capable of adapting well is the species that survives.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, ask questions, and organize and evaluate information. For instance, business owners should be asking, is now the right time to be reopening? Who says the pandemic is over? Who is cautioning against reopening? What will reopening look like? Coming to a valid conclusion requires studying the available data: what is happening in other parts of the world, the country, or the industry? Carefully evaluating data has never been more crucial than during this pandemic.
Separate truth from belief. People often have trouble separating what is valid from what is true because of ingrained beliefs, which we all have. This “belief bias” interferes with our ability to think logically. Critical thinking means making decisions based only on data. For business leaders that means putting aside what worked in the past and being completely open to new practices and protocols.
Jim White, PhD, is the author of “Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds.” He is founder and president of JL White International. He also is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies Inc. and Growers Ice Company Inc., and founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Organizational Behavior.