One of the most sought-after skills in the business world today is “critical thinking.” The Wall Street Journal reported that mentions of critical thinking in job posts on the career-search site Indeed.com have doubled since 2009. Critical thinking also ranked first on the “Most Important Skills for Next Gen Leaders” in a 2016 survey from Executive Development Associates, Inc. (EDA), Pearson’s TalentLens group, and Performance Assessment Network (PAN).
Certainly for PR and communications professionals, the importance of critical thinking cannot be overstated. Clients and partners look to us to be trusted advisors and a credible resource to shape their communications and PR strategies – running on autopilot just doesn’t cut it in this industry.
So what does it mean to be a critical thinker, exactly? Aren’t you automatically thinking all day, every day? The answer is both yes and no. The key here is the phrase “automatically thinking.” Critical thinking requires you to shut off the autopilot mode and thoughtfully consider the task at hand. For example:
Understand the bigger picture. Consider, for example, that you’ve been tasked with building a media list for an upcoming announcement. You might pull up your master media list, identify the top “friendly” journalists who have covered your company previously, and leave it there. Applying critical thinking to this task involves going a step further and examining questions such as:
With this example, critical thinking elevates the task to something far more substantive than building a simple media list. You’re thinking critically about the more strategic goals behind an announcement, how it pertains to your clients’ business, and how it fits into the broader competitive landscape.
Anticipate & identify potential flaws in your logic. When presenting ideas to a manager, client or reporter, it’s important to anticipate potential questions or concerns. On its own, this demonstrates a thoughtful approach – but it’s only one part of the process around critical thinking. The first step is to think deeper to find potential flaws in your initial logic so that they can be addressed early in the process.
Let’s say you’ve got a great idea for a proactive media pitch – you draft it up and want to send it off to some target reporters ASAP. Think critically here before hitting the “send” button:
Here, critical thinking lifts the pitch from a rapid-fire email to a reporter to a more thoughtful, well-researched story idea. You’re backing up your points with stats and information and can present the idea in a new, creative way.
Be discerning about data, and make informed decisions. Being able to analyze information from multiple sources, and apply that information to your task at hand, is a big component of critical thinking. Journalists have to utilize this skill on a daily basis. In the code of ethics for the Society for Professional Journalists, one of the very first tenants is to for reporters to “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.”
For PR and business professionals, this translates to demonstrating the thinking behind the claims you’re making, and use data from a variety of sources to back up your claims. The final example we use here is around how to accept (or decline) feedback from multiple sources as part of an editing cycle on a document.
Having a second (or third) pair of eyes on a press release draft, for example, can catch things you might have missed the first time around. It’s easy to just quickly “accept all” after someone’s reviewed a document, and consider the job done. This is one of the most dangerous examples of auto-pilot mode: simply assuming the person editing/reviewing the document is correct. Critical thinking allows you to consider both the strength and validity of the original content being edited, and the edits themselves. Some questions to help guide your thinking:
Critical thinking allows you to consider another person’s perspective and suggestions to consider, but more importantly, it allows you to actively choose to accept them or not.
What other parts of critical thinking do you utilize in your PR career? Are there other areas where you’ve found yourself working on autopilot? We’d love to hear about it in our comments section!Tags: creative thinking, Critical Thinking, Informed decision making, Innovative Thinking, Proofreading