• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

How to develop leadership expertise through analytical thinking and curiosity

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One typical illustration of analytical thinking is using the scientific method, something that we were encouraged to develop and use as a default mechanism.

As we know, the scientific method is a specific set of interrelated steps to define the problem, create a hypothesis, collect data, test ideas, and draw conclusions.

The scientific method work uses a consistent methodology based on structure, logic, and analytical thinking. It has rigor and discipline. We use the analytical thought process scales to think through various situations from geometry to history, weather forecasting to party planning, architectural designs to gardening, to fixing cars. The scientific method as a problem-solving framework is a good friend.

One way to see and understand analytical thinking is to see it as discernment. It is a thinking process that exists at several different levels. Discernment is the ability to apply logic and reason to solve problems. It is understanding the picture in a puzzle and how the pieces fit together.

One aspect of analytical thinking worth singling out is its ability to see relationships and make connections, such as determining cause and effect or understanding the relationship between the whole and its parts. Additionally, it can construct, destruct, and reconstruct the elements of a problem and search for solutions that are not readily apparent. As an individual move through the leadership development process, the ability to make connections and see relationships broadens in scope across people, organizations, and the outside world.

At a deeper level, analytical thinking is about sharpening one’s intellectual capacity. A part of this process is the ability to make informed judgments. We call this discernment. It is the ability to see and understand situations clearly and intelligently. Consistently solving problems creates a good goal-scoring instinct. But to achieve strategic objectives requires a great deal of perception, which is the ability to discern meaning and figure things out at a deeper level. In the pursuit of framing and substantiating a judgment, there are several processes at work: the powers of observation, the collection of data, and the weighing of evidence. At this point, what is important is not simply the goal but the ability to step back and get an accurate perspective of the situation by asking questions:

• What is new in our industry?

• What are we not giving attention to?

• What is the implication of recent trends?

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• What can potentially impact our businesses?

• What do we see about the future?

• What can we do differently?

The various ways by which we solve problems are indicative of how we think and learn. Consider the concept of single-loop and double-loop learning. When a problem occurs and a solution doesn’t work, single-loop learning questions the actions are taken. On the other hand, double-loop learning questions the assumptions that underlie the actions. It dives below the surface of solving the problem to understand what is going on. Both types of learning are important, but knowing when and how to use them is critical. The ability to step back, take stock, test assumptions, and gain insight is the value that discernment brings to the overall process of thinking and learning.

The ability to be discerning only intensifies with curiosity by asking further questions and digging deep to know the “What if…?”. What discernment is to thinking logically; curiosity is to thinking creatively. Curiosity has two sides. One side accepts and embraces new ideas and diverse perspectives. On the other side, it confronts. It questions authority, takes risks, and challenges perceived constraints.

For leaders, curiosity is an itch that must be scratched. And when curiosity is unleashed, it has the power to create scientific breakthroughs and artistic triumphs. It is a reason, and it is a passion. For all these reasons, it is a critical competency needed for leadership. What makes curiosity important in the expertise stage is its natural inquisitiveness with questions posed in all shapes and sizes. For sure, they include the what and the how. But what Curiosity seems to fuel is an insatiable need to go beyond why to contemplate, what if…? Sometimes it’s illuminating, and sometimes it’s edgy. Sometimes it leads to understanding; sometimes, it leads to confusion. Curiosity is nothing if not relentless. The need to ask questions is critical to the pursuit of acquiring and applying knowledge and skills and building a base of expertise. However, it is not bound by logic, but it speaks to the creative mind and human emotion.

The relationship of curiosity and discernment, inquisitiveness, and judgment creates a unique dynamic. Both are a bit like the odd couple. While one is convergent, analyzing clues, making judgments, drawing conclusions, and ensuring everything is neat and tidy.

The other is divergent, asking questions and looking for options, wondering what is messy and scattered. But they have figured out how to live together. Independent, each is important, but together they create a disciplined yet flexible way of thinking conducive to building a solid base of leadership expertise.