Critical Thinking Part 1: Identifying the Real Issue/Objective

A few years ago, the CEO of an asset management company called the office from the road, asking to talk to one of his subordinates. His subordinate’s assistant put him on hold, and after a few minutes, came back on the line to say she didn’t know where the subordinate was.

The next day, the CEO called in the director of training and demanded he put together a “Telephone Etiquette” course for the entire company, since he had such a bad experience trying to reach his subordinate. In doing his research before putting the course together, the director of training discovered that the subordinate’s assistant knew exactly where the person was—but she had been instructed not to tell anyone.

BusinesswomanObviously, a “Telephone Etiquette” course would not have solved the CEO’s problem. The problem was between the CEO and his subordinate. Training everyone in the company on proper phone skills wouldn’t change the outcome the next time the subordinate went “into hiding.”  Too often well-informed, well-reasoned decisions have poor results because they were directed at solving the wrong problem.

Critical thinking requires the precise identification of the purpose or objective behind the analysis and decision, which often requires looking beyond the “symptoms” and looking at the underlying causes and problems—“peeling the onion” to identify the real issues, or the root cause of the problems.

Keep asking “why” to discover if there are additional causes for the problems and which are the most important to fix. The real problem for the CEO was a lack of trust between himself and his subordinate. His call for phone training was the result of an erroneous assumption.

Be aware of any assumptions or biases that might affect how the problem is perceived. If a property has a poor net operating income (NOI), is your bias towards looking at where to cut expenses as your only option? It is entirely possible that the poor NOI is a result of cutting your expenses too much already (reducing expenditures for marketing, maintenance, landscaping, etc.).

Being precise in identifying the issue will help you determine what information you need to analyze in order to make decisions. A good rule of thumb is that in addressing an issue, at least 50 percent of your time should be spent in defining the problem.

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