At the heart of critical thinking is Why? To examine a topic critically means to examine and understand the currently-held beliefs and challenge them in an objective manner. Are the beliefs based on facts or opinions? Where did the beliefs originate? Why are these beliefs in place today? Does modern research and knowledge refute any of these beliefs?
Let’s look at the task of organizing a new conference in the Internet industry. We can start with a single problem statement and go from there.
- It is difficult to get a lot of people to a new conference.
Some don’t know about it, some can’t pay for it, and some don’t want to pay for it.
- Why don’t some know about it?
There are a lot of conferences in this industry and we haven’t been able to distinguish ourselves yet.
- Why haven’t we been able to distinguish ourselves?
Our topics and speakers are not unique or famous enough.
- Why are our topics and speakers not unique or famous enough?
We have chosen common topics that our immediate friends and colleagues can speak about.
- Why have we chosen common topics by our immediate friends and colleagues?
Those are the topics we thought mass audiences would want to hear, and we don’t know any famous speakers ourselves, so we chose our friends and colleagues.
- Why do we think those are the topics mass audiences want to hear?
We assumed those are mass appeal topics, but aren’t sure exactly.
Ah ha, our first insight! With the power of Why?, we’ve drilled down to a fundamental assumption that was made. This assumption could be true or false, but it is nevertheless an unproven assumption.
Let’s say it is not true. The topics chosen for this make-believe conference aren’t the only ones with mass appeal. With that in mind, we do some brainstorming and come up with a list of topics not commonly covered by other conferences. Our list includes somewhat obscure or difficult – yet unique – topics.
And voila, with critical thinking, we have a potential differentiator. Go through this exercise a few more times, perhaps with the questions, “Why can’t some pay for it?” and “Why don’t some want to pay for it?” as starting points, and we may uncover additional insights. With enough effective insights, we may be able to make this conference a success.